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Four years on, Google sees growth in Africa

Rebecca Wanjiku | Sept. 28, 2011
Four years ago, when Google opened an office in Nairobi, Africa was largely served by satellite, the cost of connectivity was high, and very little regional content was available online.

Compared to other markets, Africa still has fewer users of our business products but awareness is important. Two weeks ago, Google launched, a site that caters for local businesses and is a sign that the market is demanding such services.

However, our advertising platform has given local companies the ability to advertise their businesses locally and internationally, which has yielded good results especially in tourism and horticultural sectors.

CW: How is Google engaging developers?

Mucheru: Google has a project with MIT known as MITi, where students from the USA visit African universities training developers on apps for mobile. Apart from various competitions, Google also works closely with innovation and incubation hubs in the region. The latest is the Umbono project, where Google is collaborating with Silicon Cape in South Africa. Under Umbono, startups will be offered free office space for six months and receive seed funding of $25,000 to $50,000. Startups are also linked with angel investors. This helps businesses grow and supports developers to present their products to the market.

CW: One of the projects involves digitizing government records. Some people feel Google is monetizing the data and locking out other companies that may be interested in such a partnership. Is this true?

Mucheru: No. Google is working with African governments at various levels. In Kenya, the government digitized Gazette records that were manually stored since independence. The government needed a platform, which we provided. The information is readily available to everybody, it is free to download. We are not monetizing the data, we are making the information available. We are not taking business from the market, we are creating a platform for the market to create applications and use for many other purposes.

CW: Lack of a payment gateway is one of the challenges cited in doing business in Africa. Is there any chance Google Wallet will be introduced in future?

Mucheru: I cannot say if we are going to introduce Google Wallet or not. We are looking at how mobile money is being used; when we have a product we will announce it. For instance, with Adsense, we saw a very significant need to introduce faster payment and we made money available sooner through Western Union.

CW: Google global cache seems to have helped ISPs grow and stabilized Internet Exchange Points. How can more countries benefit?

Mucheru: The Google global cache has been a major success; it has allowed us to improve services and reduce costs for operators. In some cases we have more than one cache. We want to ensure it's in every market and in every operator; the key is to look where it's in demand and target the market. Availability in more markets will depend on how the agreements come into place. We look at how much of the traffic in the country an ISP is going to serve. The aim is not to advantage one operator but provide better services for the market. In situations where the cache is shared, that is ideal. If the traffic is too much, we work with more than one ISP in the country. But it depends on the market and on Google's relationship with various players.


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