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Facebook’s influential Nigerian ‘brain trust’ is the reason Zuckerberg came to Lagos first

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Mark Zuckerberg has just spent two days visiting Nigeria in a move that could signal more attention from Silicon Valley. That Zuckerberg chose Lagos as the destination of his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa would have been a surprise to some. Other African countries could make a case of being more obvious destinations for Zuckerberg’s first trip to the continent. Kenya is often hailed as a more high profile tech market with widely available fast internet connections and a thriving ‘Silicon Savannah’ tech ecosystem for its startups.

It can also show off mobile money service, M-Pesa which has gained global acclaim, and pay-as-you-go solar service M-Kopa, which won praise from Barack Obama during the US president’s visit to Kenya last year. Similarly, South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, is not just home to Facebook’s only Africa office and a leader in digital advertising in Africa but it also holds more than double the number of tech hubs in Nigeria.
Indeed, some US investors and strategic partners have bypassed Nigeria because it’s often privately described as ‘tough’ and ‘opaque’ with poor basic infrastructure for electricity and internet, despite the population’s obvious dynamism and potential.

But it looks like Zuckerberg’s choice of Lagos is likely down to an influential team of predominantly Nigerian-Americans at Facebook. As Techpoint, a Nigerian tech blog, reported, more than fifteen managers and executives of Nigerian background work with and around Zuckerberg at the world’s largest social networking site, occupying a range of high-profile roles. Among the most prominent are Emeka Afigbo, who handles strategic product partnerships for Facebook in sub-Saharan Africa and Ime Archibong, Facebook’s director of strategic partnerships.

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