Nairobi — California-based Google wants to get a bigger share of Africa’s growing online population, which is expected to top 800 million by 2030.
The internet search giant announced this month it is setting up its first product development center on the continent, to be based in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. It is scheduled to open next year and will employ more than 100 people.
Charles Murito, head of government affairs and public policy for sub-Saharan Africa at Google, said the investment will create many opportunities within Africa’s tech sector.
“The product development center is going to be one that works to create transformative products and services for people right here on the continent, as well as creating a product for the rest of the world,” he said. “So the announcement last week was really just a kick-off in terms of the hiring process for the people that are going to be working in this product development center for Africa. And that will include roles such as product managers, UX designers and researchers, and engineers, and this is really a starting point of the work we are going to be doing.”
The multinational technology company said its mission is to make the world’s information universally accessible and create a product that works well for Africans.
Bitange Ndemo, former principal secretary of Kenya’s information, communication, and technology ministry, said the government needs to train more of its youth to benefit from the Google center.
“It’s a wonderful investment in the sense that it’s going to help reduce the problem of unemployment in this country, but what that tells the Kenyan government is they must begin to invest in skilling and reskilling young people so that they can meet the demand. Already the demand for such skills exceeds supply locally,” he said.
Google has trained over 80,000 certified developers from Africa in the past few years.
The firm is investing $1 billion in projects over the next five years to help with the development of Africa internet economy.
Murito said the investment will transform Africa.
“It’s the opportunity around creating products that work best for Africans at large and, therefore, whether you are thinking about products on financial inclusion or other sectors of the economy, we believe that by having a product development center right here on the continent, we will be able to know firsthand what challenges are and also be able to create products that will service and solve some of those challenges,” he said.
Microsoft has also invested in Kenya, hiring hundreds of engineers from the East African nation.
The continent comes with its own challenges for businesses because some countries lack good governance and the rule of law and that creates an uncertain environment for investments. Some nations have turned off the internet to silence their citizens.
Murito said his organization works with African governments to encourage innovation and develop policies that will sustain innovation.