Facebook wakes up to Nigeria but is Free Basics enough?


Having already launched in smaller markets such as Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, Ghana, Seychelles and Rwanda as reported last year, Facebook has finally launched Free Basics in Nigeria the continents largest mobile market – Andrew Fassnidge.

In a partnership with Airtel, subscribers in Nigeria will be able to access all the services that are available through Free Basics without paying extra for data charges or rental. The service will launch in Nigeria with more than 85 free services dedicated to health, education, jobs, and finance. To date, Facebook estimates that its connectivity efforts, which include Free Basics, have brought more than 25 million people online who wouldn’t be otherwise.

With the cost of mobile data still an issue for subscribers Airtel Africa will also be offering Facebook Flex in Nigeria, which allows people to access a version of Facebook without data charges.  According to Facebook, this initiative is part of their commitment to bringing people online and reducing affordability barriers.

Developers now a sales tool for Facebook in Africa
Following on from showcasing African developers at F8 conference Mark Zuckerburg commented on the announcement with a post explaining that Nigeria “is home to a lot of talented developers”, however the reality on the ground for Nigerian firms is somewhat different. While of course there are some, there is a major lack of experienced talent to build scaleable businesses.

Andela is working hard in tackling unemployment in Nigeria by training a generation of highly-skilled young developers to cope with local demand but we are still a long way of this point.  iROKO  one of Nigeria’s biggest success stories could not find enough local talent to build their vision in Nigeria and now have teams in London and New York.

“Beyond the rhetoric”
As Appsafrica reported back in 2014 Jason Njoku, spoke about the “need to go beyond rhetoric in Nigeria, lots of talk, lots of guys in suits but nothing happening on the ground” and to some extent it is still happening today except it is guys in jeans and t-shirts.

While Zuckerberg references Olalekan Elude, Ayodeji Adewunmi and Opeyemi Awoyemi from Jobberman  a successful online recruitment platform  “Free Basics offers Nigerians, including 90 million people who are currently offline, the opportunity to access services like Jobberman”, the real story Nigerian techies should be looking at, is that Facebook and Free Basics will not teach you how to code and run a business.

It is a channel that may eventually die like MySpace and Mixit have in the past. Jobberman founders built this business on their own with hard work and determination as a standalone business before Facebook even set up their first office in Africa.

Education critical
Only 12 per cent of Africans have access to any sort of tertiary education, and almost none of it is in software development. Dedicated education and training is critical for the continued growth of mobile and tech start-ups in Nigeria and Africa with MEST, Andela and Codex all doing their part.

While Free Basics provides a good starting point to get people online, greater efforts should be made by Facebook and other dominant players to provide the entire internet for free outside of  the walled garden of Free Basics. This may change the perceptions of some African mobile users who through no fault of their own, regard Free Basics as “the internet”.



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