Tech CEOs’ Growing Focus on Africa

BigTech CEOs have been spending more time in Africa lately, a clear reflection of the continent’s growing importance as a source of innovation as well as a developing market for the global technology industry.

According to a recent Forbes article by Toby Shapshak, a steady stream of major tech CEOs have been passing through Africa since 2015.

Among the leaders that have been showing up and showing an interest in Africa in recent years are Google’s Sundar Pichai, Airbnb’s Brian Chesky, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet’s Sergey Brin, Alibaba’s Jack Ma, just for starters.

Dorsey Meets Backlash

At least one CEO is facing a backlash as a result of his plans to spend even more time in Africa after spending a month on the continent this year.

Scott Galloway, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and a noted critic of BigTech companies issued a scathing letter advocating Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s replacement.

For Galloway, Dorsey’s announced plans to spend at least one quarter of 2020 in Africa because the continent will “define the future” was a bridge too far.

“A part-time CEO who is relocating to Africa? Enough already,” Galloway wrote in a letter addressed to Twitter board chairman Omid Kordestani.

Galloway’s annoyance was already rising because of his contention that Twitter is underperforming, as well as Dorsey’s status as CEO of two major public companies — Twitter and Square.

Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey and new friends in Ethiopia

Doing More than Visting

Many global tech leaders have been doing more than just visiting Africa. Several have made investments that reflect their belief in Africa’s future.

Google, for example, opened an AI lab in Ghana earlier this year.

And last week Ethiopia became the second African nation to join Alibaba’s Electronic World Trade Platform, which “aims to lower barriers to global trade for small and medium-sized enterprises through e-commerce.”

And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been making investments in Africa for several years, having invested through his foundation in a company that trains Nigerian coders back in 2016.

Is all this interest a good thing for Africa? That’s a fraught question, with opinions on all sides, that will be debated on stage and in the hallways during the upcoming BigFive Summit, 18-20 May in Cape Town.

This take from Quartz acknowledges some positives from all this attention but also adds a note of caution.

One observation about Dorsey here that we agree with is that his presence in Africa may have much more to do with his fintech Square than with his social network Twitter.

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