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Taking a cue from Google’s artificial intelligence lab in Ghana

Later this week, one of the major technology giants will be hosting what is now looking like an annual event that is designed to enable it share some new developments and plans for the country.

The event is, actually, not the reason for this piece but the need for Nigeria to feel the greater presence of some of these tech giants.

Yes, I am aware that many of them are spending thousands and millions of dollars to provide capacity building programmes and support in many of our higher institutions, start-ups and NGOs.

Notwithstanding, I believe that we are at that point where we should begin to ask for certain physical investments such as the IBM’s research lab in Kenya or Google’s planned artificial intelligence lab in Ghana.

It’s not all bad news because the likes of Facebook and GE have setup physical spaces in Lagos. These should go beyond just setting up cool spaces.

We actually need to see some level of ‘real’ activities coming out of these spaces such that there will be a lot of knowledge sharing and transfer in the process. For example, despite reservations and issues around the Andela model, it might play out well on the long run because after some years, some individuals will graduate and move on with the experiences and skills garnered, which hopefully will be used to solve bigger problems.

I am not an economist but I really enjoy reading  economic theories. To date, I am not sure what economic model I believe in the most. Yes, I love capitalism because it has proven to be more sustainable; but then, I dislike the fact that the winner takes it all plus the fact that in today’s world of gross capitalism and advancement of technology, there is an ever-widening gap between the haves and haves-not.

That said, one cannot deny the fact that capitalism has brought quite a lot of benefits to the world. One of such benefits is that we are now witnessing massive value that many smart entrepreneurs are pushing to the world, riding on technology.

One company that has brought immense value to the world is Google and like all other tech giants, it was not setup for charity. It is a for-profit-business; therefore, it is understandable, if it chooses to make certain decisions, like preference for setting up an AI lab in Ghana, which has an estimated population that is a little higher than Lagos State.

I am a member of a forum that houses some of the most respected technology experts in the country today. One of the members is the chief architect of Cymantiks, Emeka Okoye, who posted the link to an article by the CEO of SwiftaCorp, Victor Asemota, titled, ‘Ghana is the future of Africa’: Why Google built an AI Lab in Accra’ and published on

In that piece, Asemota shared his thoughts on why he believed that Ghana was better positioned as the country to lead Africa to new digital frontiers.

“Ghana has relatively stable electricity, relative security, and decent Internet infrastructure. It also has some of the best tourist destinations in the developing world. All of these are present without any hype. I moved our business there and didn’t look back ever since. This choice is in spite of the challenges the country has gone through in recent times. I have remained and will continue to do so,” Asemota said.

The article generated a rather healthy debate, with some agreeing with Asemota, while others disagreed with him. In the hot debate that followed, one reaction that caught my attention was by Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu, Managing Partner, Grand Central, where he postulated that Nigeria would still be the ultimate destination of the AI lab to be sited in Ghana.

“Accra (as distinct from Ghana) has always been promising for tech – 20 years after my attempt, it is frankly just that – promising. Back then, over smiling foam heads of cold drinks, our partners would cheerfully explain that with the expatriate population, donor enthusiasm and funding on which the country seemed so dependent, Ghana was the gateway and Nigeria the destination. In my humble opinion, history shows that sanity might support, but does not drive enterprise,” Chinenye emphasised.

He concluded his post by stating that while the AI Lab would be in a sane Accra, its output will be ‘owned’ by an insane Nigeria in the same way that we took over their airports, banks, real estate and even street hawking, carrying the baggage of our chaos and indiscipline with us. The massive amount of data required to drive a project such as that would likely come from a country like Nigeria with a rather large population.

Here is another interesting comment by Chikere Ezeh, a technologist with Civica UK, “If Amazon, a bigger player decides to build a lab in Togo, will they become the future? It’s great news for Ghana. One hopes they have the skills and data to fuel AI. If they don’t, it will be like having a shiny Rolls Royce in the front porch with no fuel.”

I agree that companies have the right to decide where they want to situate their next projects. However, as a proud Nigerian, I must use any available means to share my thoughts so that organisations from all over the world will not regard Nigeria solely as a place to make money, with little or no on-the-ground investments.

I look forward to seeing what physical project or significant infrastructural investment will be sited here in Nigeria. I understand that Google has huge announcements to make on Thursday and one will be curious to learn how big these announcements really are.

That said, the bigger lesson for Nigeria is that other small and seemingly more focused countries are not resting on their oars and are ready to take us on. As for businesses, they will keep making objective, profitable decisions in line with their corporate goals and objectives. No hard feelings at all.