Twitter’s new Ghana base stokes Nigerian tech fears

Twitter’s plans to launch its continental base in Ghana has added fuel to a simmering tech race between West Africa's leading hubs. But Nigerian tech firms blame the country's business environment.


Image : Kola Sulaimon/AFP

Nigerians have lashed out at their tech regulators after Twitter launched a recruitment drive in neighbouring Ghana.

The company unveiled plans to build its first Africa team in Ghana on Monday, and will explore plans to open an office in the country.

The move is a blow to Nigeria, Africa’s largest tech hub, which hampers innovation with red-tape, limited access to finance and poor power supply, tech firms said on Twitter.

It’s no longer enough for Nigeria to just be a big market, said Flutterwave’s former managing director Iyinoluwa Aboyeji.

“Next door is a very competitive neighbor, who’s doing all the right things to make itself the hub of West Africa. With the AFcFTA they can sit in Ghana and extract endlessly from us. How do we compete?”

Ghana’s population of 31m people has 8m social media users, while Nigeria has 200m people and 33m social media users, another user said, adding “we ban crypto. Kill small business. Oppress young people”.

Another tech and development consultant said: “Twitter going to Ghana instead of Nigeria is a sign of weak policies on emerging businesses and enabling environment for businesses to strive #NigeriaLostTwitter.”

Others defended the move, claiming remote positions would create jobs for techies across the continent.

Twitter says it chose Ghana as an entry point due to the country’s strong democracy, freedom of speech, and its hosting of the headquarters of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which started trading in January 2021.

Eye on Africa

The continent’s burgeoning population and growing internet uptake also presents a “huge opportunity” for technology firms, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said following a tour of African tech hubs in 2019.

The tech giant also has a huge untapped market on the continent, with only 12% of Africa’s internet users owning a Twitter account in 2021, StatCounter figures show, compared with 59% on Facebook.

Despite ICT contributing 18% of Nigeria’s GDP in 2020 (according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) its booming tech community faces serious challenges. 

The average Nigerian tech firm has more than 30 power cuts per month, and complains of constraints such as access to finance, political instability, taxation, corruption and the legal system. a report by the Center for Global Development found.

“Nigeria is becoming a major African destination for tech investment, driven in part by a large, well-connected population, but the survey raises concerns about the fundamentals of the business environment tech entrepreneurs have to operate in”, the report said.

Even so, Twitter’s largest rival Facebook hopes to open its second Africa office in Nigeria’s commercial hub Lagos in 2021, six years after opening its first in South Africa.

Nigeria also remained the frontrunner for startup investment in 2021, followed closely by Kenya, Egypt, South Africa and then Ghana, research by investment firm Partech finds.

Google opened it’s the first lab dedicated to AI research in Ghana in 2019, where the business environment outstrips its West African counterpart by 13 places on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index.

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