By Robert Stitt
Africa is a massive continent with well over a billion people. Millions and millions of those people are tech savvy and use the Internet and social media every single day. Many of us likely assumed that tech giants like Facebook were quite active there. Surprisingly, Facebook just opened its first office in Africa, located in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The challenge, it seems, is one of infrastructure. Many places in Africa have mobile Internet connections, but few of them are fixed. One Bloomberg report mentioned that “while mobile Internet is booming, data is expensive and smartphones are rare, with most people using cheaper — and less capable — devices called feature phones that can’t run Facebook’s full mobile application.”
One idea is to offer free airtime when using Facebook; another is to run a program dubbed “Facebook Light” that uses less data and requires less bandwidth.
While the challenges are there, the market potential is, too. It is estimated that 120 million Internet users in Africa currently use Facebook, but over 900 million don’t. When you consider that the entire population of North America is less than 600 million, you can see the vast potential the African market provides.
To meet the challenge head on, Facebook brought in a woman who is not new to the tech scene, marketing, or Africa. The company’s new head of Africa will be Nunu Ntshingila, chairman of the Ogilvy Group in South Africa. Prior to her time at Ogilvy, she held senior positions at Nike and the South African Tourist Board. She graduated from the University of Swaziland and Morgan State University in the U.S.
Nicola Mendelsohn, vice president of EMEA at Facebook, has already been in the field laying the groundwork for the expansion. Mendelsohn said of Facebook’s opportunities, “Mobile is not a trend; it’s the fastest development in communications we’ve ever seen. This couldn’t be more true in Africa — where so many people are mobile-only. This new office is a significant milestone for Facebook.”
Bizcommunity reports that “Facebook will initially focus on growing its business in anchor countries in the major regions of sub-Saharan Africa: Kenya (East Africa), Nigeria (West Africa), and South Africa (Southern Africa). Other supported territories include Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique and Ethiopia.”
Facebook aims to not only help Africans connect with each other, but to assist in the growth of businesses and reach new markets. Ari Kesioglu, the regional director of MEA at Facebook, said that they are “committed to creating solutions tailored to people and businesses specifically for African markets.”