BusinessDay

Twitter’s choice of Ghana a missed opportunity for Nigeria’s tech

Twitter has announced that its first office in Africa will be located in Ghana and not Nigeria which the company’s CEO visited in November 2019.

During the visit to Nigeria and some other African countries, Jack Dorsey had said he plans to return for three-six months in mid-2020. That return did not happen due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown imposed by many countries, including Nigeria. But Dorsey had also visited Ghana, South Africa, and Ethiopia.

“Sad to be leaving the continent…for now,” Dorsey had tweeted on his last day in Nigeria. “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one).”

Many in the tech ecosystem had assumed that if there was any country that got the attention of the Twitter CEO, it was Nigeria. The country was the investors’ choice in 2019 and could have remained so had the COVID-19 pandemic not struck. Dorsey had even weighed in during the anti-police brutality #ENDSARS protest in 2020.

However, Dorsey chose Ghanaian jollof rice over Nigeria’s with a picture he posted in 2020. It now seems that the Gold Coast nation has finally won him over as his company is now actively building a team in that country.

In a post, Twitter explained that its mission is to serve the public conversation, which it views as essential for the world, and to increase the number of people who feel comfortable participating in it.

“To do this, we need to make it easier for everyone to join in and provide more relevant experiences for people to access the world,” the company said.

Twitter describes Ghana as a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the open internet, which are tenets the company advocates. The company also holds a favourable view of Ghana being the location for the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade. Twitter’s long-term goal is to establish a presence in the region that will support its efforts to improve and tailor its service across Africa.

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Stakeholders in the tech ecosystem say Twitter heading to Ghana is a missed opportunity for Nigeria.

Twitter’s presence in Ghana is a stamp of approval not only on the country’s economic outlook but also on the quality of the tech ecosystem. Twitter presents an opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas between tech talents in the country which is likely to rub off positively on tech businesses in the country. It could also open the door for more funding for the startups. These are opportunities Nigerian tech could have leveraged had the company chosen the largest country on the continent.

But the choice of Ghana over Nigeria is not entirely a surprise to many of the stakeholders given the series of apparently anti-business policies the country has unleashed in recent times.

The stakeholders cite the decision by the Central Bank of Nigeria to ban financial services from supporting cryptocurrency businesses in the country and their bank accounts. They say that decision would automatically have cancelled the country as a destination of choice for Jack Dorsey who is also the CEO of Square, a digital payment company that is hugely invested in cryptocurrencies. In February, Square purchased about 3,318 bitcoins at an average price of $51,236, which signals remarkable confidence in bitcoin as it races to record heights.

It is an open secret that Dorsey plans to expand Square’s services to Africa and views cryptocurrencies as a segment in payment that could drive development in the continent.

Ghana has a relatively stable outlook for the cryptocurrency market in Africa, even though it is yet to develop a regulation. In February, while the market in Nigeria was reeling from the CBN regulatory onslaught, Ghana launched a fintech regulatory and innovation live testing pilot that will give preference to projects using blockchain technology. The governor of the Bank of Ghana also said the country is undergoing rapid digitisation and announced Ghana could issue a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC).

Nigeria’s decision to suspend SIM registration until it concludes the National Identification Number (NIN) registration exercise has also dampened the confidence of investors in the country’s ease of doing business.

“We brought in a group of expatriates in December. Till today, none of them has a Nigerian phone number, because you can’t buy SIM cards,” said Editi Effiong, CEO of Anakle, a digital agency in Nigeria.

The SIM registration suspension has seen the telecommunication sector lose more than 11 million subscribers at the cost of over N16 billion in revenue in the space of four months. The sector which was the best performing in the past year is now looking at the first half of the year in losses for the first time.

In 2020, Nigeria was ranked 131 on the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Index, whereas Ghana was at 60 out of 190 countries.

Recent policies in the financial services industry have also been seen as stifling the growth of the financial technology (fintech) segment of the market. An example is the directive by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to Capital Market Operators (CMOs) to desist from selling securities not quoted or registered as only registered securities in Nigeria can be issued, sold, or offered for sale. In other words, the directive requires CMOs registered with the SEC to offer only securities listed on any exchange in Nigeria to the public.

The SEC’s position, like the order on cryptocurrencies, was greeted with consternation with experts calling for a revision of the policies.

“In the spirit of progressive engagement and dialogue, many voices now suggest that the SEC take a fresh look at its latest position, as these innovations are widespread publicly accepted, and valuable,” Kola Aina, founding partner, Ventures Platform, said.

Twitter is, however, not restricting its team recruitment for the headquarters to only Ghanaians. The positions are open to anyone from any part of the continent to apply.

“We are looking for specialists to join several teams including product, design, engineering, marketing, and communications. Full details on current job openings can be found on the Twitter Careers site,” the company said.

“Aligned with our existing WFH policies, we look forward to welcoming and onboarding our new team members remotely so that we can make an immediate impact while we explore the opportunity to open an office in Ghana in the future,” it said.

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