Meta's metaverse hype in Africa may not bear the desired results

Many citizens cannot afford to join the metaverse obsession and Meta’s efforts may not bear the results it is targeting.
The metaverse is a mirage in Africa.
The metaverse is a mirage in Africa.
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Meta wants to spread the metaverse hype in 16 African countries, and has announced a series of programs under its global extended reality (XR) fund to grow metaverse talent.

But the challenge is that for many Africans, the concept of the metaverse is still too theoretical with buy-in relying on people seeing how it can enhance their livelihoods or businesses. Coupled with the restrictively high costs of VR headsets, slow internet speeds, and high costs of data on the continent, the metaverse will face a bumpy ride in Africa.

“It’s good for the future but we’re are not there yet, economically we’re struggling. People hardly understand the concept of the metaverse. If you tweet about the metaverse in Africa people get curious but are confused,” founder of Nairobi-based social media analytics startup Brand Moran, Egline Samoei tells Quartz. “Those who understand it don’t know how to merge it with their businesses.”

Meta’s Africa metaverse ambitions

Phil Oduor, policy programs lead for Africa at Meta says that augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are core to continent’s metaverse future and the company will be pumping $50 million into a two-year training program which aims “to support African XR talent who are building innovative solutions that demonstrate the various aspects of the metaverse in Africa.”

The company is partnering with two startups–Nairobi-based BlackRhino VR and Lagos-based Imisi 3D–and hopes they will help it lodge a successful continental drift into the metaverse. The existence of only two players pioneering VR tech in the continent speaks volumes about Africa’s preparedness for an immersive universe where Gen X and Gen Z are expected to spend up to five hours in the next five years.

What is the point of the metaverse in Africa?

The concept of the metaverse is still new in Africa, and sales of VR headsets, VR glasses, and Google cardboards have been low because many people are yet to understand what living in the metaverse actually means.

Meta has no plans to make its VR devices affordable for Africa and is in fact doing the converse–raising the price by $100. Meta’s Oculus Quest 2, for instance, costs $396 in Nairobi, a price too high for a continent undergoing economic strife. Curiosity notwithstanding, many Africans cannot afford to join the metaverse obsession and Meta’s efforts may not bear the results it is targeting.

Nick Chumba a 20-year-old web designer finds no inspiration in the metaverse. “Why would I need to purchase a VR headset? Why would I buy designer clothes for a digital avatar? Even the idea of selling digital land, what’s the real value?” Chumba says, highlighting the fact that even African techies are not sure how the metaverse will serve them.

Africa’s internet does not support heavy immersive streaming

Immersive experiences with high-definition video applications require internet data speeds of between 80-100 megabits per second while low resolution 360-degree experiences available in most VR head-mounted displays require at least 25 megabits per second. Africa’s average internet speed is 5.74 Mbps, and the cost is highest in the world. A number of countries are testing 5G networks, but 3G and 4G networks are the mainstay in the whole of Africa.

For Savio Wambugu, a United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) tech consultant who serves in the advisory board of Kenya’s association of countrywide innovation hubs, Africa is the most promising place to implement the metaverse, but there’s a lot of work to be done in improving infrastructure and growing metaverse talent.

“Big tech companies are setting base in Africa. This has brought a ripple effect on the skillset needed to build, implement, and adapt to the metaverse. The challenge now is the infrastructural internet capability to support all this which should be upgraded,” he tells Quartz.

At the end, many Africans believe, it’s all about the physical life they’re living and not the virtual one. And they already have enough daily challenges to deal with. But Meta remains optimistic that its efforts to grow metaverse skillsets could help it inject an additional $40 billion into Africa’s GDP in the next decade.