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Tidjane Dème: the Senegalese, boss of Google in French-speaking Africa!

Tidjane Dème1

In Africa, he is one of the most discreet actors but certainly the most influential. Tidjane Dème is Senegalese, 39 years old, who has been since four years the boss of Google in French-speaking Africa. After his high school diploma (with cum laude distinction) in Dakar, he won a scholarship which allowed him to make brilliant studies in France – he came out of the Polytechnic School- he worked as consultant in IT and Telco industry during 5 years before returning to Senegal. “I come from a family where only knowledge is valued. Apart from that, there is nothing else that urged me to be fascinated by the internet. But, I think that education was determining in my career path.”

On his return, he set up several businesses. “I wanted to help SME (Small and Medium-sized Enterprise) to mutualize resources and allow them to benefit from new technologies. But this project did not well succeed because the environment was not adapted to it. I then created a consulting firm, an information system, with a team of four or five people.” He is not afraid of failure which he also faced: “Before creating a company that is successful, it is necessary to experience wrong ones a number of time”

In 2008, Google that noticed him, wooed him. “They convinced me to join them to open an office for me in Senegal to deal with French-speaking Africa.”

It was nevertheless a risky gamble: “In a zone where Internet is not yet developed, it is not obvious to make such a project and thus, I was not ready to do that. The persons in charge of Google who came to Senegal, understood that Internet was not developed in the zone and their approach was: “in a few years, Africa will be ready. It will be a big opportunity of business for us “.

Why him and not an American or an expatriate? “The persons in charge of Google came to Senegal by saying that they did not want to bring an expatriate. They wanted somebody who has skills, who understands the country, who knows the context and who has already worked here. I studied in Europe. I worked in Europe and in the United States. I acquired skills on the field of the internet. I came to Senegal, I created a company and I worked in the area during several years. For them, it was the combination that was necessary to have the profile to which they can assign the development of their activities in the region.”

Today, he is gambling on content: “Africans have to produce relevant contents for Africans. And we decided to encourage those who produce interesting and high-quality contents. We have to see how to work with this entire sector so that we can bring their contents on the Internet and make it in a viable way.”

His biggest pride: Americans are interested in start-ups that have come out today in Senegal thanks to Google in particular…

“We introduced at Google the idea of making SMS interfaces for our products. Because in Africa, still not everybody has Internet but everybody has a mobile phone to send SMS. We wondered: “If with Google Chat of Gmail, we can directly chat with anybody on their mobile phone?” And we developed this product which has a lot of success in Senegal, which was spread in Africa but also in Asia, in Latin America and anywhere else. It was thus a contribution of the African team of Google. We became on many aspects, a spring of innovation for Google. It was a very positive assessment for us because it generated a lot of attention and respect for the region and it contributed to convince Hi-Tech industry to invest more in Africa where there is innovation and opportunity.”

Tidjane Dème also launched YouTube in Senegal. “Google has a great platform which is YouTube. We checked figures and we noticed that YouTube was already popular in Senegal but producers could not yet make profitable this platform because they did not know it. It thus remains a sensitization and training work and then it is necessary to put at their disposal a number of tools.”

Tidjane Dème knew that the adventure has just started: “Analysis proved that at every time we get 10 % of penetration of internet, we get 1 % on the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). For the case of Senegal, it is even easier to illustrate. Here, the telecom sector represents a very important percentage of the GDP; people even talk about 12 %. It is thus an expanding sector of growth that develops employment and income for the country. We have a great cultural and media contents industry which interest the whole world. Internet can be a way of distributing these contents all over the world in a profitable way for this industry.”

His biggest conviction: “An African developer or programmer has no cause to be envious of a European or an American.”

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