Twitter has shut down its office in Ghana and laid off nearly all its employees days after billionaire Elon Musk took over the social media. The firm employed just under 20 people in roles such as curation, marketing, and editorial but that modest presence was widely seen as an endorsement of the rise of technology in Africa.
The layoffs are part of Musk’s plans to cut losses and make Twitter lean. The firm has fired staff across the world – including the US, India, Singapore, Japan, Brazil and Mexico. The decision is in contrast to the time when Twitter established its presence on the continent in 2021 soon after former CEO Jack Dorsey toured the continent. Following his visits to Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Ethiopia in 2019, Dorsey said, “Africa will define the future,” and even announced he would move to the continent for up to six months. Those plans were thwarted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana called the closure of Twitter office ‘unfortunate’. In recent years, Africa has attracted growing interest from global technology giants. Meta has opened offices in South Africa and Nigeria; rolled out new products and features to dozens of countries; and introduced local-language versions of its platforms. Microsoft, which has had a strong presence on the continent for many years, already employs local software engineering, machine learning and data science professionals in cities like Johannesburg, Nairobi and Lagos. Last year, Google announced a US$1bn investment in Africa to cover a range of initiatives, from improved connectivity to investments in start-ups. And, seeking to capitalise on the continent’s burgeoning online retail sector and demand for cloud services, Amazon is in the process of building its US$300m African headquarters in Cape Town and is reportedly set to launch dedicated e-commerce platforms in South Africa and Nigeria.
Africa’s technology start-up ecosystem has also accelerated significantly in the last few years, backed by rising venture capital investment. In the first half of 2022, the region’s start-ups raised US$3.5bn in venture capital funding, a 133% increase from the previous year.
Concerns about Twitter’s Africa employee cuts seem to be more related to freedom of speech issues and content moderation, rather than its impact on the broader technology sector. When Nigeria briefly banned Twitter in 2021, it was the regional team that managed compliance relationships with the government. Ghanaian digital inclusion researcher Kofi Yeboah said the layoffs could affect content moderation efforts as African staff brought a more nuanced understanding of events happening locally than moderators located in Silicon Valley.
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