Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and CEO of U.S.-based internet giant Facebook, made a surprise visit to Kenya on September 1, giving rise to speculation that Facebook was interested in acquiring Safaricom’s mobile money platform M-Pesa. M-Pesa CEO Bob Collymore denied the rumors, saying that if Facebook wanted a mobile money service it could create its own. Zuckerberg toured iHub, the tech development center in Nairobi, and met with executives at BRCK, the Wi-Fi modem manufacturer that has been described as potential rival to Facebook’s plans to spread connectivity throughout Africa. He also met with Kenya’s cabinet secretary for ICT.
Even if the story of Facebook aiming to buy M-Pesa is, as Collymore said, a fabrication, Zuckerberg’s visit highlights the growing vitality of the tech sector in Kenya and points to the very real opportunities for outside companies to do business in this vibrant “mobile-first” region. It also suggests that lessons learned from the rapid and successful uptake of mobile money in Africa could be of interest to entrepreneurs in the developed world, as well.