Mark Zuckerberg visited Nigeria last year as part of a global tour. At an exclusive Town Hall Q&A event in Lagos, RDF Managing Partner Nkiru Balonwu, asked him what his plans were for Facebook in Africa, why the Company chose to launch in South Africa and not Nigeria, and when we could expect to see female business role-model and Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg!
The Facebook founder began by introducing his visit to Lagos:
“I wanted to come to Lagos first,” said Zuckerberg. “Because of the vibrant developer and entrepreneurial system that you guys have here. So I’ve been going around the world to different cities, and we’ve been doing Town Hall Q&As. We’ve been sitting down with people in the Facebook community, and hearing from them about how they use our services and what we could do better.”
“And here in Lagos I wanted to not just sit down with the people in our community, but sit down with developers and entrepreneurs. The reason for that is there’s this energy here, you feel it as soon as you get off the plane, and I think the world needs to see that. Here in Lagos, and across the continent, things are changing really quickly. The economy is shifting from a resource based economy to an entrepreneurial and knowledge-based economy. You guys are the ones who are leading that changing, and not only remaking Lagos and Nigeria, but shaping the whole continent and influencing how things are going to work around the world for the next generation.”
Dr Nkiru Balonwu welcomed Zuckerberg to the city and went onto ask some serious questions about the future of Facebook in Nigeria and across the continent.
“I’m so happy to meet you,” said Balonwu. “I just want to say generally for Nigerians, we’re not excited by anybody, so if I saw Michael Jackson, I’d be like ‘Hi!’. So two things: Can you please tell Sheryl Sandberg that she is our hero here! I mean, some of us are dying to meet her so if she’ll come that would be amazing! And just to say something that may be slightly non-PC, but when you chose to launch in South Africa we were really disappointed. Because it sometimes feels like people think that South Africa is really the core of Africa and it’s not. (And I am so sorry for that by the way South Africans!)”
“But consequently we feel as if Facebook has missed a lot of opportunities on the continent, and I wanted to ask you how you think you could address them? I think that your staff are doing phenomenally, but they are really understaffed, and I wanted to know your ideas for Africa and in particular, Nigeria?”
With only 18 million Facebook users currently in Nigeria, a country with a population of 186m+ people, the possibilities for growth are there for all to see.
“Yeah, so I think you’re right,” replied Zuckerberg. “Although when you’re building something, I try not to think of things as missed opportunities so much as just things we haven’t done yet. And there’s certainly a lot more that we need to do.”
“So here in Nigeria, I think it’s 18 million people use Facebook. Right, so that means there’s a lot more to go? I think a little fewer than that use WhatsApp. So there’s a lot more to go there, and that’s the biggest country on the continent for us. So part of the reason why I’m here now, although this trip is primarily focussed on entrepreneurship and developers, is that this is where a lot of the future is going to get built. So I think you have to hopefully have patience with us. Because we’re not going to build it – you guys are – and we want to do our part: invest in connectivity, help connect everyone here, and if I’m back in a few years or five years and we haven’t made a lot more progress then I’m going to be pretty disappointed.”
Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to Nigeria took place in August 2016 – you can view highlights from the event, including Dr Nkiru Balonwu’s points, in the Facebook Newsroom here.