Room for African social networks – say VAS Africa panellists


There is a place for local African social networks which will help change politics, governance and ethics across the continent, but they will only thrive if data costs decrease allowing a critical mass of users to produce sufficient content online, according to panellists at the VAS Africa summit.

Speaking at the summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, the panellists agreed there is a role for local African social media outlets to play – as compared to global social networks such as Facebook – both in promoting cross-cultural education and supporting a change in governance and ethics across the continent.

“I think there’s a great need for African content and mediums that reach out to the African people,” said Charles Akpom, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Afroterminal.

There are many similarities between west and east African countries and communities, Akpom said, such as lack of infrastructure and bad governance, but there are also huge cultural and language differences, for instance.

Akpom said African social networks such as Afroterminal provide a platform for cross-boundary social education.

“In terms of social awareness and good governance, social media is making a huge difference,” Akpom said.

“Those are some of the opportunities that lie ahead for social media, helping to change politics, governance and ethics on the African continent.”

However, regardless of the potential benefits of social media in Africa, current data costs are hindering the unlocking of this value, the panelists said.

“The cost of data is still too high,” said Tomisin Fashina, CEO of Yookos. “The cost of data is limiting and almost strangling social media.”

According to Fashina the cost of data needs to be reduced to the point where it is readily affordable and accessible to everyone in society.

“If we can have that, then the true potential of mobile and social media will be unlocked and anything is possible,” Fashina said.

Akpom said industry players need to collaborate to make data more affordable, but also suggested developers have a key role to play in creating user and data friendly interfaces.

“Using social networks, there’s a need for data. There’s a need for cooperation between phone makers, network operators and social networks to make this possible,” Akpom said.

“Networks need to work together with developers and the social networking world.”

Pekka Kangas of Tecnotree said lower data costs have a pivotal role to play in ensuring a critical mass of people join a social network, with high user numbers the key to whether or not a social network is successful or not.

“Why is Facebook so successful? Critical mass. It has a lot of users,” Kangas said. “African social networks could work, but they need a critical mass.”

According to Kangas, this critical mass of people also needs to be incentivised to provide sufficient amounts of content to keep social network users engaged – with content provision also heavily dependent on data availability.