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Twitter layoffs in Accra could spell disaster for its operations in Africa

The majority of employees at Twitter’s short-lived Accra office have reportedly been fired, casting doubt over its continuity.

On 12 April 2021, Twitter announced that it was making its mark on the continent. “As a champion for democracy, Ghana is a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet, of which Twitter is also an advocate,” the company said in a statement at the time.

“Furthermore, Ghana’s recent appointment to host The Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area aligns with our overarching goal to establish a presence in the region that will support our efforts to improve and tailor our service across Africa.”

No warning

Twitter employees have been operating on a work-from-home policy after the Covid-19 pandemic slowed down plans for expansion.

On 1 November 2022, the company opened its headquarters in Accra, stirring hope that the Accra HQ would not be affected by the major layoffs abruptly announced by Elon Musk. Twitter employees across the world had been reporting that they could not access their company accounts following the notice of dismissal.

Now it appears that many employees at the Accra office were fired the same week that the HQ was reopened.

According to a report by Larry Madowo of CNN, staff were locked out of their email accounts and received termination notices via their personal emails. “The company is reorganising its operations as a result of a need to reduce costs. It is with regret that we’re writing to inform you that your employment is terminating as a result of this exercise,” says a statement obtained by Madowo.

“Your last day of employment will be 4 December 2022. You will be placed on garden leave until your termination date.” According to reports, the emails did not mention any of the 20 employees by name, and no next steps or severance was offered to them, unlike those working in the US.

The Africa Report was not able to contact any of these employees directly, but one of them, Bernard Kafui Sokpe, a senior partner manager who goes by the name @mistameister said on Twitter: “It’s been a year working at a place I never imagined I’ll ever get to work. I’m glad that I could represent Africa & I didn’t let us down. My best career experience by far & it was beautiful whilst it lasted. Much love to all the amazing tweeps that made it worth it. #OneTeam.”

‘No choice’

Even though the mass firings have elicited strong reactions on social media, Musk retorted saying: “Regarding Twitter’s reduction in force, unfortunately, there is no choice when the company is losing over $4m/day. Everyone exited was offered three months of severance, which is 50% more than legally required.”

The cutbacks are part of a widespread movement across the industry, as tech giant Meta announced large-scale layoffs this week, with a reduction of 13% in staff, in response to the sector’s rapid growth during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Twitter has let go of around 50% of their staff (3,700 people), including their global human rights team, machine learning ethics, transparency and accountability, and accessibility teams.

Part of these teams’ roles would have been monitoring content coming from the continent on key issues, such as the war in Ethiopia. Without safeguarding and fact-checking, especially from local teams, how will Africa be prioritised by the platform?

 

The news of the Accra office comes at an inopportune time, as the upcoming Nigerian presidential elections and other polls across Africa stand to be impacted by the lack of regulation and attention to the continent.

Kofi Yeboah, a researcher specialising in AI and inclusion, believes this move by Twitter is part of a bigger problem. “The continent has already been having a very poor response from social media companies, including Twitter, when it comes to content moderation and flagging content that is abusive or hateful on the platform,” he says. “[…] imagine losing the entire team at this moment. It’s chaotic, to say the least.”

Although Twitter worked directly with the Ghanaian government and President Akufo-Addo, Yeboah argues that the initial outreach was purely “cosmetic”.

“We’re not getting the same response and investment as in other continents like North America. We’ve seen this across the election period. We’ve seen this across protests, mass protests, responses, and so looking at how Elon [Musk] also does business, he is not giving [the continent] priority,” he says.

As Twitter’s shake-up continues, Africa’s tech community will be on the edge of their seats to see how Musk’s latest moves impact their spaces.

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