Peter Onyeri is Project & Public Affairs Analyst for USAfricaonline.com, first African US based professional newspaper published on the Internet; and USAfrica magazine (Houston Texas). He is based in Lagos.
The Nigerian Twittersphere went into hysteria, all through this week, following the April 12, 2021 decision by the social media giant, Twitter Inc, to set up its Africa headquarters in Ghana. It is part of the growth strategy in a Project Africa Initiative by the highly influential microblogging platform with over 392 million daily global active users.
The issue was on the front burner of enlightened discussions amongst elites who understand the implications of the Twitter move.
No doubt, Twitter is not the first high profile techy company to make a business foray into Africa. Facebook is already here, with Google, Microsoft and Huawei. But Twitter Inc. of California, United States of America is a big deal. The reach and influence of the platform, especially among the young who constitute a high percentage of the world’s population, is pervasive and overwhelming. It is almost as if you should not be part of today’s society if you are not on twitter, to be tweeting. Such is the scope of the impact of the social media behemoth. It is a particularly dominant and incredible influencer. Coming down to Africa for a more Africa-centric content, it will be the height of naivety to ignore the implications.
It is probably in appreciation of this reality that Nigerian government officials were all over the media to try to downplay the certain threat to a government that needs to be apprehensive for many reasons. Specifically, the Nigerian Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, appeared on national television to say that Twitter took the action they did because Nigerians are demarketing the country, internationally. Not a few Nigerians received that viewpoint with a lot of skepticism arising from an endemic trust deficit in government pronouncements. In today’s world of the internet and social media, knowledge is freely available on the information superhighway. The concept of “citizen journalism” has come on strongly onto the public space to change the face of communication, radically away from what used to be. People can now see, analyze from their own perspective, report, talk and discuss freely, in a global information space. Twitter, as a communication network service provider is a key enabler of this paradigm. Therefore, the capacity of social media platforms like Twitter to make and unmake can only be ignored at a huge and comprehensive peril.
It was interesting to hear the Minister admonish, ”I hope that this will serve as a lesson to Nigerians”. Indeed. Nigeria and Nigerians need to studiously assess this rude awakening to an emerging reality, for lessons to be drawn from a very dispassionate insight into the issues involved.
As a starter, there is a traditional rivalry between the two West African countries of Nigeria and Ghana that manifests in several areas of human enterprise, even though Ghana is much smaller than Nigeria in many ramifications. The question then arises as to whether Ghana presents a veritable alternative to Nigeria as an investment destination, even though both of them are almost located strategically, as it were, in the heart of Africa?
At the 2016 Africa Summit of the World Economic Forum, it was noted that “… we are at the dawn of a digital revolution that will change almost every part of our lives….and Africa, largely bypassed by previous industrial revolutions, stands in a unique position to reap the benefits of these changes…powered by technological innovations”. Africa is therefore projected to be the new battle ground of economic activity in the emerging world order. From all indications, the race for control and dominance of the economic space had started in earnest and Ghana seems to be emerging as the hub of the envisaged digital economy that will be anchored on AI, robotics and machine learning.
Current statistics indicate that Nigeria boosts the largest economy in Africa with a GDP of 466.88 USD for a population of over 200million, compared to Ghana’s GPD of 71.95 USD for a population of 33million. According to NOI Polls, Nigeria has 39.6 million people with twitter accounts, which is more than the entire population of Ghana. Facebook, a competitive international player in the social media space with Twitter, had earlier last year announced its intention to open a new office in Lagos, Nigeria in September 2021, its first in the continent. But, Google LLC, the giant American multinational technology company that specializes in internet-related services and products is already in Ghana with an upscale laboratory for a pioneering work in the area of research for Artificial Intelligence. It is significant to note that Huawei, the dominant Chinese electronic consumer products and smart phone conglomerate is also already embedded in Ghana, and now, Twitter Inc.is joining the race to the same Ghana. And so, for many other companies, all heading to Ghana in recent times.
So, what is happening in Ghana, one may ask?
Twitter Inc., in its announcement via its official handle, informed observers of the development that their decision (in the choice of Ghana over Nigeria) is informed by its desire “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers…..in ways that improve and do not detract from a free and global conversation”. Now, where does Nigeria stand on this?
In the heat of a massive youth uprising in Nigeria in October 2020 that engaged the attention of the world in real time, Twitter launched a defiant tight-fist emoji in support of the #EndSARS movement that spearheaded the protest, aligning completely with the position of its CEO, Jack Dorsey. The businessman went on to call for Bitcoin donations in support of the protest but shortly after, Nigeria banned the use of Bitcoins for financial transactions in the country. This happened at a time when the business world was embracing cryptocurrency for an emerging paradigm in virtual money transactions. Meanwhile in Ghana, Binance P2P makes it very easy to buy and sell Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. You can convert your GHS into BTC in a fast, easy, and secure way without paying any fees.
It is fairly clear that democracy is a fundamental policy issue in the business calculations of Twitter Inc. In the face of the current political dislocations in the United States, Twitter is collaborating with hundreds of other high-profile companies and business actors like Amazon, Google, G.M. and Starbucks, to stand up for democracy, in an emerging trend that threaten businesses in the US. On the foray into Ghana, it went on to tweet in their explanations that, “As a champion for democracy, Ghana is a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and Open internet, of which Twitter is also an Advocate”. Twitter Inc therefore lays claim to the strong democratic ethos of dissent of views, debate and discussion, that gives everyone a voice, and treating everyone with respect and weighing well their aspirations and their ways of looking at the world, without barriers. The divergence of world view between Nigeria and Twitter on this position seem to have been underscored by the celebrated altercation between the two entities in the #EndSARS imbroglio. Twitter Inc. is probably convinced that they are not in sync with Nigeria on the principles of democracy but rather have a shared vision and mission with Ghana in the conduct of its affairs.
In the 2008 Claude Ake Memorial Paper (CAMP) Democracy and Stability in West Africa: The Ghanaian Experience presented by Kwame Boafo-Arthur, he noted that “a stable political environment creates avenues for all forms of socio-economic activities that contribute to national development”. The flip side of this observation is that an unstable political environment discourages investment for socio-economic activities.
Investments and businesses go to friendly environments. That is why countries seriously desiring economic growth and development try to enable the right investment climate and infrastructure for businesses in their domain.
The security challenges facing Nigeria is all over the internet coupled with a legal system that is far from being business friendly. The wanton killings and destruction of assets in almost all parts of the country is something no business with a choice will want to grapple with. And in a 2020 poll conducted by NOIPolls, 88% of Nigerians said they lack confidence in the Nigerian Judicial System due to corruption. It is very pervasive, albeit very detrimental to a necessary business culture. CSL Research, in its 2020 report noted that, Nigeria has a huge infrastructure deficit that is widely believed to be one of the biggest challenges to the ease of doing business in the country. According to the IMF, Nigeria’s infrastructure stock of c.25% of GDP remains far below the 70% international benchmark.
But what indeed should specially engage the critical interest of Nigeria is the further insight by Twitter that their move was also informed by the fact of Ghana’s selection by the African Union as host to the Secretariat of the evolving African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), earlier in July 2019. That milestone in Ghana’s quest for economic pre-eminence strongly signaled the emergence of the country as a sub-regional power in the continent, nay Africa. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement, for AfCFTA, is Africa’s strategic response for the realization of its vision in the new global economy. It is a trade agreement and economic game changer, established to create a seamless environment for trade across the African Union’s member nations. It is the largest free trade area in the world since the World Trade Organization was established in 1995. Nigeria, the bloc’s most populous country and Africa’s economic giant is an obvious investment target for the ‘open market without borders”. Accra is just 411.99km from Lagos, the economic nerve center of Nigeria while Maiduguri, in the same Nigeria with Lagos, is 1,532.5km from Lagos. As Twitter communicated in its supporting tweet, the Nigerian market is their target under AfCFTA, irrespective of their location in Accra. Distance would be no constraint in the emerging market as Ghana and Nigeria will be part of one huge, open and competitive African market. Businesses will always want to go to where it can maximize profit by cutting down on losses. That is the sound business decision, devoid of emotions.
Democracy, social media, trade and business are inextricably linked up. This nexus must be appreciated by any country desirous of playing a strategic role in the emerging world order of high-tech engagements. The Twitter move is an ominous wake up call for Nigeria. The likes of South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya are revving up to compete with their respective strengths. In the face of the shift from petroleum to alternative energy, Nigeria must quickly come to terms with the present realities. Things are fast changing for a projectized world of stiff competition and new ways of work. A large population, as Nigeria presently flaunts, can easily become an albatross, unless enabled for productive advantage. The lessons from the Twitter move to Ghana must be appreciated in a positive light for the opportunity it creates for strategic action. ————————–