African business, politics and lifestyle
Google’s Africa play
Anyone in Ghana wishing to buy a goat, an iPad or an “accident free” 2008 Hummer can now go to a Google site set up to link buyers and sellers who have access to the internet and SMS messages.
As Google’s presence grows everywhere, it isn’t neglecting Africa and is betting on the power the internet will bring to transform business and society on the continent – even if it remains one of the least connected parts of the world.
Last month, Google hired Ory Okolloh, co-founder of well-known Kenyan crisis mapping platform, Ushahidi, as its Policy Manager for Africa in a clear sign of its ambitions.
In October last year, the company launched Baraza, which serves as an online space where Africans can ask questions and post answers to others.
According to Product Manager, Aneto Okonkwo, “the goal of Google Baraza is to facilitate knowledge sharing among Africans about locally relevant topics.”
Questions include everything from “What is the economic impact of the tax increases in the Ghana 2011 budget ?” to “Is it safe to take charcoal tablets during pregnancy?” and “Where do grasshoppers come from?”
In December, Google launched its Trader service in Ghana, having started it earlier in Uganda. Google went all out for the launch in Ghana with flash mobs and an artiste singing a catchy jingle about the service on the streets of Accra.
Though internet penetration rates in sub Saharan Africa countries remain low, the recent launch of undersea fibre optic cables in East and Western Africa could significantly improve connectivity.
Google’s offerings in Africa also tie in closely with the SMS messaging services which have exploded across the continent with the spread of mobile phones and already give greater access.
Senior Google official Nelson Mattos has noted that any company that wants to be successful in Africa will have to do a good job at providing content relevant to the local market.
But will betting on the mass market prove successful for Google in Africa? What will the presence of the search giant mean for local or global competitors?