Twitter delivered a surprise for Africa when it said it was establishing a regional headquarters in the West African nation of Ghana, triggering vigorous debate about the business environment for technology start-ups across the continent.
Many Nigerians believe that Twitter’s decision is a snub to the continent’s largest economy, which is seeing rapid growth and investment in its tech scene.
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According to NOI polls, 39.6 million Nigerians have a Twitter account, which is more than the entire 32 million population of Ghana.
Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey capped a whirlwind tour of Africa in 2019 by pledging to move to the continent for several months in 2020.
Now it seems that his business will make that move first.
In a statement announcing the decision, Twitter described Ghana “as a champion for democracy, a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet.”
The social media giant also cited Ghana’s hosting of the secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) as another reason for moving there, saying it aligns with “its ambition to establish a presence in the region that will support our efforts to improve and tailor our service across Africa.”
For the social media giant, its decision was based on shared values – Ghana supports “free speech, online freedom, and the open internet”.
The fact it also serves as the HQ for the African Continental Free Trade Area – established to accelerate intra-African trade and freedom of movement – seems to have cemented Ghana’s appeal as a gateway to the region.
Ghana was a way of becoming “more immersed in the rich and vibrant communities that drive the conversations taking place every day across the African continent”, Twitter said.
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo was quick to retweet the news, saying it was the start of a “beautiful partnership” and critical for the development of Ghana’s tech hub.
“These are exciting times to be in, and to do business in Ghana.
The choice of Ghana as HQ for Twitter’s Africa operations is EXCELLENT news. Gov’t and Ghanaians welcome very much this announcement and the confidence reposed in our country. ‘’
Yet many industry leaders were initially stunned.
“In Africa what has generally been considered the tech hubs of the continent have traditionally been Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya,” says Kenya-based Kagure Wamunyu, who leads the expansion of Kobo 360, a digital haulage start-up that connects freight owners with lorry drivers.
Kenya in particular, she says, has successfully nurtured an enabling environment for the technology ecosystem and leads the pack when it comes to high levels of internet penetration.
“So it was an interesting choice, but the move to Ghana is still a win for the continent.”
On reflection, Nigerian tech pioneer Femi Longe agrees Ghana was an obvious choice.
“Nigeria is a big attractive market but if we’re honest it’s a very harsh place to do business. Ghana has invested quite a lot in recent years on creating an environment that is attractive for people coming from the outside.”