This week Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has been visiting Nigeria and Kenya. As you would have seen throughout my writing, some of the most innovative ideas in Africa come out of these countries. It is surprising that this is the first time that Zuckerberg has been to ‘sub-Saharan Africa’ (I have learnt today that this phrase is politically loaded, but I am not sure what to substitute it with?). With Facebook looking to roll out its free basics service across the continent by launching its Amos-6 satellite, he really should have gone down to see the continent for himself long ago. This plan may have been pushed back after yesterdays SPACE X explosion.
With more than 1.5 billion people using Facebook, it forms a part of the daily routine of people worldwide. But why is Facebook significant to Africa and, conversely, why is Africa so important to Facebook?
To answer the latter, there are 800 million people still to be connected to Facebook in Africa. The potential revenue stream from such a huge quantity of users in enormous. Not only would they continue to gather huge amounts of data on the habits of people, they will have there eyes on advertising. In the USA and Canada, Facebook made $13 per person in 2015. Even games like Farmville made them money with the company making $186 in the first quarter of 2012 from things like selling credit on games. It is not coincidence that Zuckerberg is most interested in the mobile money companies, such as M-Pesa. All of a sudden, people across the continent have new methods of purchasing items online, and Facebook wants its cut! I wouldn’t be surprised if he bought one!
Can you remember a time without Facebook? Well, there was myspace and Friends Reunited, but connecting with the world was difficult. Of course, now we have lots of ways of connecting with the world. Skype, Viber, IMO, Twitter, Whatsapp (Facebook owned), all give us the the opportunity to communicate cheaply with people around the world. The integrated nature of Facebook gives it so many functions in Africa. (Of course also the world)
Facebook has enabled countries to be unified. With bad road networks and an almost non existent train network, it is often very difficult to get from one place to another, especially long distance. That means that often that people do not feel connected to each other, even when they are from the same nation, let alone the same continent. There are divides all over the continent. Each country has a multitude of ethnic groups and languages, that can be challenging when creating unity. Facebook gives the opportunity for people to share information with others that they would not normally have the chance to associate with. This is very important during election campaigns, as all of a sudden, these ‘tribal’ barriers are broken down. Some countries have taken the decision to shut down Facebook and other social media platforms during election time. There reasons are unclear, but it could be suggested that this is done to control the spread of information and restrict freedom of speech.
The #bringbackourgirls campaign also highlights the importance of Facebook and social media. It isn’t long ago that the rest of the world simply had no idea what was happening in Africa. There are still limitations, but the campaign to highlight the plight of the kidnapped Chibok girls and also what is happening in northern Nigeria with Boko Haram, was significant. The problem is still unsolved, but many countries have upped their involvement in finding a solution since that campaign.
Facebook also enhances business opportunities. Not only are companies able to market their products and services to a greater number of people in their African companies than they were before, individuals are able to do the same. Unemployment is high in many parts of the continent, and Facebook gives people in Africa to connect with more potential customers. For example, I have spoken to many people across the continent that tell me they want to get into business. When asked which business, a majority say they want to buy and sell clothes. The competition is so high, they feel they need to rent a little store to create a boutique. Now, with Facebook, they can do such a business and reduce costs by simply using a Facebook page. It is not only fashion that Facebook is used to sell. I have seen Mobile phones, air conditioning units and even dogs (which I don’t think is a good idea) sold over Facebook.
What do you use Facebook for in Africa? To find a family member? To make money? To find love? To share political or religious content? Comment or Tweet your experiences! Don’t forget to share the blog, lets create a dialogue.