I think a lot about narrative, and the nuanced intent of the vocabulary we use. What does it mean for someone to make a remittance payment (is it a remittance payment if someone sends money from Nigeria to the UK too?) or for someone to work in the informal economy (if 80% or more of the population works in the informal economy, is it actually informal?).
Today I’m thinking about “the next billion”. The next billion what?
The next billion consumers, of course. The final frontier. So much of the world’s intrigue of the African continent – its rapidly growing, young population, its increase in mobile penetration, and so on – frames Africans as consumers.
That’s why I find big tech opening offices on the continent intriguing and exciting. Of course they’re looking at African markets from a consumer perspective, but they’re here for producers, as well.
Back in 2019, the CEO of Jumia defended their Portugal-based engineering team by claiming “The reality is that in Africa there are not enough developers.” Since then, Microsoft launched $100 million development centers in Nairobi and Lagos, last week Twitter announced their first office on the continent, in Accra, and this week, news broke of a new, $300 million development in Cape Town to house Amazon’s new headquarters. These offices – and local developers, in particular – are playing a meaningful role in the development of global products.
I have concurrent, conflicting thoughts.
On one hand, I think big tech developing and growing their presence on the ground is unequivocally a good thing, and perhaps a recognition that African talent is both necessary to build local solutions, and is also eminently capable of building products with a global reach. While the competition for local talent may heat up, I suspect in 5+ years we will be able to draw a straight line between big tech’s hires today and the top startups of 2026.
On the other hand, Amazon doesn’t have any retail presence on the continent. Am I right to presume this is a function of a bearish view of the continent from a consumption perspective? And is that actually a bad thing (i.e., do we want Amazon in African markets)?
Or, maybe this entire discussion is entirely too narrow. It’s not merely about consumption in or production for African markets, but global markets. The goal isn’t African consumers consuming more of that which is made by global producers, or African consumers consuming more of that which is made by African producers, but global consumers consuming that which is made by African producers.
So the next billion what? Why not the next billion producers for the global economy?
Thanks, as always, for reading!