Twitter is about to set up their Africa office on Ghana. That is clearly a big deal and testament to the conducive business environment in Ghana, which is an attraction to such huge tech giants. It is also a booster to the Digital Ghana Agenda.
But very often, what happens is that, we tend to think of such things as a favor being done us, because Twitter could have chosen anywhere in Africa. They could have gone to Nigeria or even Kenya, but they chose Ghana. We forget that Jack Dorsey and his guys at Twitter are not dumb. They weighed their options fully before choosing Ghana. It is a purely business decision, underpinned by what Twitter stands to gain and nothing to do with favoring Ghana.
So we also need to sit up as country and see how we can benefit fully from their coming, and not gloss of very important details in the conditions of their establishment here, otherwise, their presence here will not mean much to us but benefit them hugely.
It is a given that Twitter will provide jobs for Ghanaians, but they will still keep some key strategic positions in the hands of their own hand-picked expats, that’s for sure. That, we can’t do much about. But there are things we can regulate in the interest of our people. The people must be at the center of every decision we take in dealing with any multinational.
The Uber syndrome
Let me use the Uber case as an example. And there are many multinationals in Ghana who also run a similar models as Uber.
1. Uber offices in Africa are separated from the holding company/companies, but Uber drivers are made to sign online contracts with the holding company sitting somewhere in Amsterdam or in some tax haven somewhere. That way, the country offices are totally absolved from any responsibilities. So when drivers or even customers have issues, they are referred to the holding companies. The country only slave for the holding company but have not authority to make decisions.
2. When Uber offices in Africa launch new services, the country officials come out in the media and speak extensively about the services. But when there are challenges and journalists go to them, they refer you to their group or regional office sitting outside the country.
3. When a lawsuit is filed against Uber country office in Africa, they claim they cannot be sued because all contractual dealings were signed between drivers/clients and the holding company and not with the country office. Such an insult on our intelligence as Africans.
If this is the conditions under which tech giants are going to be allowed to open offices here on Ghana, then we need to take a second look at it. How does it benefit the people of Ghana when the country office cannot be responsive to issues raised by Ghanaians in Ghana?
Just this week, a Kenyan court has ruled against Uber Kenya hiding behind those irrelevant and shady cover and held them responsible for breach of contract with drivers. Prior to that, there had been similar rulings against Uber in Amsterdam, UK and in South Africa. Why does Africa deserve any less?
If Uber did not have an office here, that’s another matter. But once they are here they must be able to sue and be sued. Regulation must ensure that. And that should also inform whatever conditionalities we give to Twitter as the prepare to set up here. The country office must not be allowed to hide behind a holding company on Pluto, and they must be subject to group actions and not be allowed to insist on dealing with individuals like Uber does to their over 10,000 drivers in Ghana.
The Uber example should let us know that those models are being shot down around the world, so we must not allow them to become an albatros around our necks and lead to preventable public outcry. They must be addressed from the onset.
We have already sufferred privacy breaches from Facebook etal, with our regulators and leaders sitting by and watching helplessly, because they cannot go to USA and hold Facebook responsible for privacy breaches in Ghana. Now that we have the opportunity of getting tech giants to open country offices, we should take advantage and do what is right by our people, and not just be happy to have scored a political point by claiming to have brought the tech giants into Ghana. It is good to bring them but it is not enough if the terms under which they come, allows them to abuse the people of Ghana and walk.
A word to the wise is in this Techgh24 caution.