Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Kenya to learn about mobile money
By Frankline Sunday
| September 2nd 2016
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrived in Nairobi on Thursday in a visit that caught many in Nairobi's tech and business communities by surprise.
On Tuesday, Facebook's communications team in South Africa sent emails informing journalists that Ime Archibong, Facebook's director of global product partnerships, would be in town for a brief visit. However, up until early evening on Wednesday, the details of the visit were scanty and images of Mark Zuckerberg in Lagos on his first ever African tour prompted mild self-deprecation comments among Kenya's Twitter community.
"Kenya is losing its place as an ICT hub and the Nigerians are taking over," tweeted one user. "Very sad for Kenya there was a time we were the first stop," tweeted another.
"This is a lesson that we need to get our house in order," stated yet another.
It was thus a pleasant surprise when images of Mark Zuckerberg eating fish at Mama Oliech's Restaurant in Nairobi's Hurlingham surfaced on social media on Thursday afternoon and immediately went viral.
Mr Zuckerberg arrived in the country at 11:25pm on Wednesday aboard his private jet. Three helicopters then ferried him and his party of 15 to Wilson Airport from where he headed for an undisclosed hotel to spend the rest of the night.
Zuckerberg is worth more than $54 billion (Sh5.4 trillion) and is listed by Forbes as the sixth richest and 19th most powerful man in the world.
Only five journalists were present at the BRCK's iHub offices on Ngong Road for an interview that was supposed to be with Archibong but that was hijacked by his boss in a surprise question-and-answer session that took exactly nine minutes.
Dressed in a grey T-shirt and blue jeans that have become his trademark look, Zuckerberg was cordial and visibly exhausted but insisted on fielding questions even as his communication team politely pointed to the schedule.
"This is a busy 24 hours coming after another busy 24 hours and the developer and entrepreneur community is very vibrant, and you see this almost from the time you step out of the plane," he explained.
"The reason I specifically wanted to come to Nairobi is the fact that Kenya is a clear leader in mobile money," he said.
"For folks who spend a lot of time in the entrepreneurial space here, it may be hard to appreciate just how advanced the Kenyan system is over others and I think there are a lot of lessons we can learn," he said.
With cameras flashing all around him, Zuckerberg did not waste time stating his agenda for the Kenyan market.
"It has been very fascinating to see how you can move money so efficiently in a way you can't in many other countries, including the US, and I have come to see how the system works, what is possible and how people are thinking about it," he stated.
Facebook has one billion users on its platform. It has in the last few years grown to include photo sharing site Instagram and messaging platform WhatsApp, acquired most recently for an eye watering $22 billion (Sh2.2 trillion).
The company has since divested into connectivity and mobile applications, and Zuckerberg states that mobile payments could soon be the next thing.
"The big question is, do people using WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger want to talk with businesses and interact with them? I think they do and I hope we can play a role in spreading mobile money around the world," he explained.
"One of the things that is unique in Kenya is that mobile operators are the ones pushing mobile money while in other places, it is the banks," he said. "We could take a partnership approach like the model we have with connectivity and partner with local operators, banks and governments."
Zuckerberg further stated that his company was keen on building Internet access in Africa and other under-served areas, which make up the company's next growth segment.
"I started when I was still in college and when you are just getting started you are happy if some people on the Internet use your app and you do not think about how to spread the Internet," he explained.
"We now feel that we have more than we can add and as we visit countries that have large portions of the population outside the Internet as is the case in sub-Saharan Africa, we ask ourselves how much better the rest of the world would be if we had the same system available here in Kenya accessible to everyone else in the world."
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