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Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Notes from gKenya

This is the third day of gKenya, where there are 30+ Google employees running a big Google-focused conference in Nairobi. They’ve just done one in Ghana and Uganda as well. The first day was for university students, the second for programmers and today is for entrepreneurs and marketers.

Nelson Mattos, VP of Africa, Europe and the Middle East gave a keynote, here are some notes from that.


High penetration of mobile devices, and growth in mobile, yet not many fixed lines and very little high-speed connectivity. This provides a major challenge to Google, whose internet paradigm is based on a different type of user. Low speed and unreliable connectivity.

The diversity of Africa is also a challenge, especially languages. Example, is that there are 51 African languages with more than 2 million speakers.

Devices and affordability. Cash flow constraints impede the ability to pay the entire device price at once. – plus limited access to financing options as the whole of Africa only has 4% of the population that is banked.

Africa is a fragmented market with 54 countries and 1 billion people compared to other emerging markets like India (1.1b) and China (1.3b). This means lower volumes of things that can be sold and lower return for investors.

Broadband in Africa is 10x more expensive than in Europe. The price is just too high outside of cybercafes and certain limited mobile plans.

14% of the world’s population, 2% of the internet
Globally, 94 domains per 10k people, Africa is 1/10,000.


Africa is embracing mobile, so Google is trying to speed up the process of getting more and more people online using mobile. They’re also working on many different levels to create a more holistic ecosystem for the internet in Africa, including policy, education and developer outreach.

Access – reducing the barrier for potential users
This mainly means reducing the cost to access, data and services. They do this with with devices (like this week’s release of the Android IDEOS phone from Huawei). They also engage with major telcos and ISPs to reduce the price of entry for data connections.

Google works a lot with the African developer communities as well, they’re particularly heavy in Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Senegal and South Africa, but are growing to more countries. One of their goals with this is to educate on how to better create efficient and effective websites, and it’s also to help grow a higher calibre of developer.

They have a university access program, where Google helps bring universities into the internet era in Africa (though I’m not sure what that means to be honest, outside of giving them Google Apps for free.)

Finally, they work to Improve the end-user experience, including latency for both Google products and internet services in general (ie, Google Global Cache). Note: Google Global Cache only works in certain countries, Kenya is not one of them due to political bickering amongst certain ISPs, AccessKenya amongst them

Relevance – making the internet relevant and useful to local people
Google is working to create and enable more African content online (ex: Swahili Wikipedia challenge and Google books partnerships). They’re helping to develop applications that are locally meaningful and enabling African devs to do the same by launching Google products in more languages.

Sustainability – helping to build an internet ecosystem in Africa that has long term sustainability
Developer outreach is a major component, where they are strengthening the developer community (through places like the iHub), working with universities by raising the level of curriculum and awareness about Google, and are also working and partnering with startups, publishers and NGOs.

Awareness and education (Doodle for Google in Kenya and Ghana, “Best place to watch the match” in Kenya during the World Cup, etc.

Google Tools

Taking advantage of Google apps (email, docs, calendar):
50k students using Google apps for free at universities
Small, medium and large sized organizations are using Google Apps as well, examples given were: Kenya Airways, Homeboyz Radio, USIU

Products developed for Africans – recent launches:

  • YouTube (South Africa)
  • Streetview (South Africa)
  • Google maps in 30 African countries: including driving directions in Kenya, Ghana and SA
  • Google News in many African countries
  • Google Places (Kenya)
  • Google Trader (Uganda)
  • iGoogle in 36 Sub-Saharan African countries
  • SMS chat in Gmail (Ghana, Senegal and Zambia)
  • Tools in local languages (ex: Gmail in Swahili)
  • Android Marketplace launched in Kenya and South Africa on Monday, but it’s crippled by lack of Google Checkout use in these same countries.

(There were actually quite a few more “Africanized” tools and features that he listed, but I couldn’t copy them all down in time. I’ll try to get the full list later.)

Ability for organizations to start local and expand globally:

  • Google Maps: 300 cities mapped, and represents a chance for local businesses to have a global presence by getting into the business listings
  • Google Site Creator: get indexed faster, uses the example of AkiliDada
  • Monetization opportunity through AdSense and Adwords: uses an example of “BabyM“, a business out of Nigeria, who used $400 on Adwords and sold their complete inventory in 4 weeks.


  1. Frick – I’m missing the good stuff!! Will be in Nairobi Sept 24th though 🙂

  2. This conference adds to my already little knowledge on aspects of monetizing on the web. Great content, gain Traffic then presell (using google products e.g. optimizer, analytics) then monetize (adsense plus other Google affiliates

  3. google should integrate mobile payment solutions and solve google checkout issue for the kenyan market for android market

  4. In regards to the following paragraph:

    They have a university access program, where Google helps bring universities into the internet era in Africa (though I’m not sure what that means to be honest, outside of giving them Google Apps for free.)

    Could the O3B Networks program of which Google is a major partner a solution to this [links below]:


  5. so why is google trying to do good with all the odds against it, an investment, hmmm?
    one fact i hate about their involvement is that they actually by their sheer ability to dominate kill the creativity of many, i mean google trader in uganda would for instance had been the invention of some clever local one…

  6. Gozebu, that’s the silliest thing I ever heard. Google are probably the most responsible major corporations unlike the likes of M$ and Safaricon. Their model of service b4 profit is what enabled the success of google search, gmail, google maps, android etc of which am sure u use a lot FOR FREE.!
    Instead of waiting forever for a local innovator, they are taking the lead by urging, equipping and supportin local developers to be the next innovators. Even Americans themselves did not have it this good.

  7. @crazywizard, I think in such issue there are bound to be difference in opinions, and if you feel you have the correct answer then I am sure you can afford to let others speak instead of hunting down or belittle people or optionally if you feel you are so correct that you don’t have time with us others “silly” ones then why not turn the page, just a word of advice as fellow african…it would make it all more pleasurable

    Let me start with the main issue I was trying to deal with and will get back to the focus of your reply to me, which seem to be heavy on Googles business strategy.

    Now who is to tell how long a local innovator should be waited out or not, is it Google who defines our development agenda? Are we really telling ourselves that there is no one inventing locally? Why aren’t we allowed to develop with our own pace, and not spoon-fed by others and chocking on it? What kind of sustainable business is expected from such spoon feeding? Isn’t it what NGOs have been doing in our continent for as long as we can remember? Now anyone who really can’t buy a computer put up a network and learn him/herself develop a service can’t reasonably own a business that will ultimately be based on the knowledge and the finance of the owner. So lets forget those “urging, equipping and supportin local developers to be the next innovators” initiatives that are nothing but an entry in the long list of Googles “nice” activities, and be self empowered instead. There is nothing in it than a certain amount of dedication.

    Now you mentioned “Instead of waiting forever for a local innovator, they are taking the lead”.

    I would rather put it this way. there are inventors/business developers who really knows and feels the need of the market. Often times this is based on by being locally anchored and at the same time fortunate enough to experience and learn technical trends elsewhere. Being able to identify the gap. But in their effort to bring home those innovations they face various challenges, and scalibility is one of the main which many internet related services hold as premises. There is such lack of infrastructure and its reach that invented/developed solutions never reach the critical mass before they run out of capital and die.

    This is my conclusion of many activities I have seen and equating this with that no local innovation is going on is not fair at all. So here is my point, because Google’s pocket seem not to have any limit of depth they can wait for the market to catch up and they will probably do just that if we carry on naively and allow them to take it sector by sector just in the name of “no one is doing it”.

    Now going to the next issue of Googles business practices, or as you seem want to hold it as “model of service b4 profit”, hailing Google as the all to go charity house is just a choice one as individual makes and not based on facts. Equating Microsoft with the evil and Google as the opposite is making it too easy and you should read up on certain facts regarding Microsoft and for that matter Google as well. Microsoft made the right moves given the time they were operating and developing their business. They are also now trying to adapt to the new business rules and are really trying, as is evident if you look around.

    Google is a profit making entity as any (ex. Microsoft), and the only thing its got going for it currently is nothing but ad revenue and the fact that it provides those services and softwares you counted is not because it wants to do it by the virtue of its existence and for the sake of humanity rather its a matter of maintaining their position in the market where they earn their bottom line, and also to be able to grow their reaches. If they didn’t do that there would be no Google no more, simple. Believing anything else is as I said earlier each ones choice, but not mine.
    Their sheer dominance in their sector is to such extent that they indeed afford to go out of their way to do the things they are doing cementing further their dominance, example in my earlier comment suffices.

    A growing amount of people everywhere is believing Google and its dominance is up for scrutiny, and believe me these opinion is shared widely from legislators to die hard google fans (defined as mere users currently satisfied with various applications google is coming with but concerned about the extent, width and depth of their reach, to which I belong).

    Agree or disagree thats my opinion and I will not bulge just because you resort to belittling remarks about me, and my opinion is not less or more valid because I use products from Google.

  8. Flaring emotions aside, Google have massively benefited society. Faulting them for being huge and dependent on ads is wrong. It’s the money from those ads that has enabled the development of soo many gud and free services. And they even go a step further by sharing those revenues with us via adsense.
    Granted, at the end of the day profits must be made, so I dont expect anyone running a business to sit back and wait to see if someone else wil fill a void in the market b4 me.
    Just the same way people have built successful businesses riding on M$ Windows platform, so have others using many of google’s services e.g maps(ushahidi comes to mind here) and I dont hear you chiding the latter.
    In conclusion, if you focus really hard @ finding fault in something, u will. Bt am sure majority of stakeholders agree google has done MORE GOOD than harm.

  9. No emotions here, you were the one belittling my opinions, calling one silly is just doing that in my book.

    Anyway I rest my case as your mission seem to be to tell how good Google is, something I couldn’t care any less about. I don’t understand why you even bothered to reply in the first place, oh, I forgot defending the “service b4 profit” Google.

  10. Google’s venturing in2 Kenya is good. But I’m 1 of those guys who have reservd thoughts abt multi-national corp’8ns n world dominance. Bt I still hope there will be a Google House on Moi Ave.

  11. Google’s venturing into Kenya is pretty good.
    However, I’m one of those people with reservations about multinational companies and world dominance in the days of Armageddon.
    Anyway, I really hope there will be a Google House on Moi Avenue pretty soon.
    +, I can’t seem to post comments through my phone. Been trying unsuccessfully for a week now. Hopefully, it’ll be sorted out soon.

  12. Great summary, and interesting commentary afterward. I just started at Google in Ghana this week and wanted to so badly to make it to the conference, but it was too last minute. Thanks for the rundown.

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