Twitter’s announcement Monday that it will set up its first Africa base in Ghana, West Africa, has generated fierce debate among Nigerian users of the social media app, and reignited the never-ending rivalry between the two countries, known colloquially as the ‘jollof wars.’
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.
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.”
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said “the choice of Ghana as headquarters for Twitter’s Africa operations is EXCELLENT news,” and described it as a “beautiful partnership between Ghana and Twitter and which is critical for the dev’t of Ghana’s hugely important tech sector.”
‘No ease of doing business’
Some Nigerians blamed an “inconducive business environment” for Twitter choosing Ghana over Nigeria.
“Under @MBuhari our ease of doing business is so bad that it’s easier for terrorists to get phone lines than law-abiding residents. You can land at Ghana’s Kotoka Airport and get a SIM card at the airport. But a camel has to pass through the eye of a needle to get one in Nigeria,” said Reno Omokri via Twitter, a former presidential aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Omokri was referring to the suspension of new phone lines registration because of a federal government policy to link all active SIM cards in the country to a national identity number (NIN) for security reasons.
The exercise is time consuming and the deadline has been extended multiple times, leaving new arrivals unable to obtain a local number, until at least May.
Another Twitter user, lawyer Moe Odele wrote: “One of our clients wanted to open shop in Nigeria for their West Africa office. Once we sent them a breakdown of the regulatory requirements for their industry (also tech), they hit us with ‘we will get back to you.’ We haven’t heard back since then.”
Another commenter, Onye Ajuju, said Twitter’s decision was justified and that Nigerians had a “bloated sense of entitlement.”
“It’s unbelievable seeing Nigerians throwing a tantrum because Twitter went to Ghana. The lack of awareness of how bad things are in the country, the bloated sense of entitlement, the unhinged expectations that everyone should accept Nigeria’s dysfunction…it’s incredible!” she said.
In 2019, Ghana ranked 13 places higher than Nigeria in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index.
Google (GOOGL),Microsoft (MSFT) and Huawei are among international tech giants that have expanded their operations in Ghana, targeting software developers and young creatives on the continent.
In 2018, Facebook opened its first community hub space in Africa in Nigeria’s commercial city, Lagos, while announcing plans last year to open an operational office also in Lagos, but for tech investors such as Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, there are lessons to be learned if Nigeria will continue to attract much-needed foreign investment.
“We have to think carefully about the reasons why Twitter chose Ghana – not necessarily in the context of whether we want to bring Twitter to Nigeria or not, but in the context of what it will take for us to remain a competitive destination for investors,” Aboyeji told CNN on Tuesday.
“We need to start thinking very carefully about enhancing democracy and the rule of law, freedom of speech, and most importantly, our role in enabling the Africa Free Trade Agreement. It’s not enough for us to just be a big market… We have next door to us, a very competitive neighbor, who’s doing all the right things to make itself the hub of West Africa,” he added.
‘A more productive market’
Another Nigerian tech entrepreneur and investor Bosun Tijani, told CNN that Twitter simply chose a more productive market to run its Africa operations.
“While Nigeria has a huge market that Twitter would love to target, the business environment here is quite demanding… It’s strenuous…the cost of running a business here is high. But with the AfCFTA single market agreement which Africa is signed up to, a company like Twitter can choose to set up shop in a small market like Ghana – that gives the best opportunity for it to operate – and still serve the Nigerian market,” said Tijani, who heads a tech innovation lab, CcHUB.
From tourism to tech, Ghana has been actively courting investors from the diaspora and in particular African-Americans, some of whom were given citizenship and encouraged to return to their roots.
Ghana also ranked as the 43rd most peaceful country in the world, in the 2020 Global Peace Index, placing 104 spots ahead of Nigeria – which grapples with Boko Haram insurgency and periodic outbreaks of violence.