Mema wo akye,
That’s “good morning” in Twi
Following the Lekki tollgate massacre of 10 October 2020, there was a staggering amount of misinformation and disinformation floating around on social media, some of which was provided by the state
Subsequent attempts at control highlighted just how difficult it is for a small group of employees sitting in the West to sanitize the timelines of millions of people around the world.
The truth is that as social media companies become more deeply involved in deciding what they allow and don’t allow on their platforms, they must localize the touchpoints that help them arrive at those decisions.
Twitter’s recent establishment of an Accra office and its advertisement of mainly editorial-based vacancies is an indication of its intent to do just that within sub-Saharan Africa.
In arriving at Accra, Twitter emphasized the following criteria:
Champion of democracy: In the Democracy Index compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit, Ghana routinely ranks high amongst African countries.
Supporter of free speech: Ghana is one of 2 African countries rated top 30 in the world in terms of free speech, the other being Cape Verde.
Open internet: Ghanaians don’t experience internet blackouts, brownouts or other forms of censorship.
AfCFTA: Accra is hosting the secretariat for the African Continental Free Trade Area and is primed to become a hub for continental trade. This article highlights some ways that AfCFTA will benefit the African tech ecosystem.
However, what wasn’t emphasized was also important:
Fully remote: Twitter is holding off on acquiring office space in the country and all staff will continue to work from home amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Proxy office: The roles are heavily skewed towards Nigerians or applicants of Nigerian descent, meaning that if Nigeria had ranked better in #1 to #3, the office probably would have been located there.
More to come: Other than the Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo, there was no mention of Accra being Twitter’s “African headquarters”, meaning that the actual HQ could yet be determined.
Green with envy
What followed was an inquisition from other African countries mainly led by their local media, who treated Twitter’s announcement like Ghana had just won the rights to host some kind of tech Olympics.
In Nigeria, the inquisition got as high as the minister of information who was quizzed about his thoughts, although his response
wasn’t very illuminating.
According to the minister, the misinformation and bad press that followed the Lekki tollgate massacre “demarketed” Nigeria and was the reason why Twitter went next door.
Meanwhile, in Kenya, this article
speculates that it was the country’s high digital tax that disqualified it as a destination for Twitter’s latest office.
To my mind, a lot of this feels like an overreaction.
It is worth noting that regardless of the state of the individual countries, global tech companies do have offices around
the continent. The location is a function of the particular company’s global expansion strategy, #1 to #3 just happen to be Twitter’s.
Also, whether Twitter had opened its office in Accra, Lagos, Nairobi or anywhere else, having a local touchpoint for timeline curation and content moderation is a net positive for the entire sub-Saharan region.