Facebook chief courts Africa’s politicians, entrepreneurs and developers in first trip
Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook at the age of 20, visited Lagos, Nairobi and Abuja this week to meet with politicians, developers and entrepreneurs in both countries.
He is trying to gather support for the social media network’s controversial plan to grow its presence on the continent.
“The energy [in Lagos] is amazing and I’m excited to learn as much as I can,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page. “Visited Nollywood, crashed a hip hop music video, and met some of Nigeria’s biggest stars,” he added in a later update.
Zuckerberg met Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja.
The social media pioneer said he had gone to Nairobi “to learn about mobile money – where Kenya is the world leader.”
His visit comes as Facebook is trying to ramp up internet connectivity on the continent with its Internet.org programme, which allows users free access to a handful of websites, including Facebook.
With growth in new users declining in North America and Europe, Zuckerberg is turning to emerging markets, like Africa and Asia, for new users.
But the programme, which has launched several satellites and dozens of drones in a bid to connect new African users, has been criticised for violating net neutrality laws.
“[Facebook is] building a walled garden in which the world’s poorest people will only be able to access a limited set of insecure websites and survives,” said an open letter signed by 67 digital rights groups, including Nigeria’s Paradigm Initiative.
“We are deeply concerned that Internet.org has been misleadingly marketed as providing access to the full internet, when in fact it only provides access to a limited number of internet-connected services that are approved by Facebook and local ISPs,” the letter said.
Zuckerberg has defended the initiative, saying that “connectivity will give everyone—not just a third of people in the wealthiest countries—access to all of the opportunities of the internet, including resources for education, health, and jobs.”
Last year, Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced they would give 99% of their shares in Facebook to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which is a limited liability company.
In June, the company made its first investment, giving $24m to Nigerian startup Andela, which trains African coders.
“[Nigeria is] one of the largest markets for distance learning courses,” said Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, co-founder of Andela. “It was from that business that we decided to do Andela as a way to find highly talented young people who wanted a career in technology and prepare them for that by getting them to work with companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft.”
Nigeria is an obvious choice for Zuckerberg’s first visit. The country has a population of 170 million and is home to ‘Yabacon Valley’, one of the most vibrant technology hubs on the continent.
Kenya is also home to a growing number of tech incubators. Zuckerberg visited iHub, a community space for Kenya’s growing tech industry. “It’s inspiring to see how engineers here are using mobile money to build businesses and help their community,” Zuckerberg said.