Elon Musk: the African who wants to unleash Twitter

By Damien Glez

Posted on April 26, 2022 11:08

African-born billionaire Elon Musk has just bought Twitter, the social network, for $44bn. The information is a source of pride as well as concern.

What is left of the African in Elon Musk, the richest man on the planet who was born in Pretoria? The cumulative fortune of the boss of SpaceX, Tesla or SolarCity may exceed, according to some statistics, the GDP of his native South Africa. And although he was born in South Africa, he became a naturalised Canadian citizen in 1988, then an American one in 2002.

As African as he is, Musk might not be considered by Donald Trump as the guy from a “shithole” country, to use the term chosen by the former US president to designate some parts of the continent.

Solidarity between billionaires? Possibly, but not only.

On Monday, the richest man in the world signed an agreement with an initially hostile Twitter board of directors for about $44bn, and became the owner of the platform, after criticising its overly severe content moderation. This was the same social network that had humiliated … Donald Trump by banning him permanently from its pages in January 2021.

For the time being, the former head of state is playing dumb, claiming that he is happy to be on the “Truth Social” network that he himself created, despite endless breakdowns and the apparent failure of the app.

When it was announced that Elon Musk was taking over Twitter, human rights groups immediately voiced their concerns. Their fears: that an unbridled social network would quickly become overflowing with conspiracy theories, misinformation and violent discourse towards, among others, minorities.

If there is some apprehension it is because the man himself has often proved to be divisive, megalomaniac and even whimsical, therefore unpredictable.

With his start-up Neuralink, he claims to have ambitions to link the human brain directly to the computer. He has compared Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Adolf Hitler. He challenged Vladimir Putin to a duel after he made his Starlink satellite constellation and connection stations available to an attacked Ukraine. On 18 April, the wealthy entrepreneur said he was “homeless” and sleeping “with friends”.

The continent has trouble in sizing-up Elon.

Sometimes, as in October 2021, he makes people dream by promising $6bn to the United Nations if it could prove that amount would be enough to eradicate all famine in the world, especially in Africa, particularly threatened in recent weeks.

And then occasionally he makes people doubt his esteem for his native continent by affirming, as in August 2020, that some Egyptian architectural jewels were not built by Africans, but by extraterrestrials…

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.