TechInAfrica — The Trump administration is ready to add several African countries to a U.S. travel ban list, including Africa’s top tech hub, Nigeria.
Initially, Politico reported the White House is considering Tanzania, Eritrea, Sudan, and Nigeria for a new travel ban, in commemoration of the three-year anniversary of Trump’s original executive order, that targeted majority Muslim nations.
Of the potential additions, including Nigeria could show the most problematic to U.S. commercial relations. In addition to flaunting Africa’s largest population and economy, the country of 200 million has become a magnet for VC and a strategic entry point for Silicon Valley.
The Department of State did not comment on the confirmation of an extension of the travel ban to Nigeria or other African countries.
The Trump administration issued its first travel ban in 2017, which was challenged, amended, and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In its present form, as Executive Order 13780, the ban places restrictions on entry for citizens of Libya, North Korea, Syria, and Yemen — predominantly Muslim countries — naming “significant terrorist presence within their territory” and “deficient” immigration screening processes.
With no remark from the Trump administration, the motivations for the possible addition of Nigeria and other African countries to the ban is yet unknown.
There are issues with Nigerian visa overstays in the U.S. and Nigeria does have a terrorist problem in its northeast with Boko Haram, though no incident related to the extremist group has ever hit U.S. soil.
Other motives might be revealed for placing travel restrictions on Nigeria and additional African countries. In an article in The Atlantic Monday, writer Peter Beinart suggested African immigrants may be next in the Trump administration’s pattern of restricting U.S. entry from predominantly brown-skin countries.
Beinart said, “For several years now, Trump has trained his nativist ire on Muslims and Latinos. The travel ban suggests he’s adding a new target, just in time for the 2020 elections: Africans.”
He cited recent negative reference to Nigerians and Africans in conservative circles by pundits Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson and Trump’s now-infamous reference to Nigeria as a “shithole” country, as reported in January 2018.
This, in fact, set the dismal tone for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s April 2018 White House visit, where Trump pressed Buhari publicly on the persecution of Christians in Nigeria.
According to Aubrey Hruby, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, this could underlie motivations behind a possible U.S. Nigeria travel ban,
“I’ve spoken to several people in government close to the matter who’ve indicated visa restrictions being discussed are also coming from concerns that Christians are being persecuted in Nigeria and within the broader context of the administration using visa rules as tools of foreign policy,” said Hruby.
She also added, “If this is the case, and they go forward with a ban, the administration could be overlooking the deep cultural and commercial ties that exist between the U.S. and Nigeria, and how much restricting travel could disrupt them.”
Nigeria is the U.S.’s second-largest African trading partner and the U.S. is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria, according to USTR and State Department briefs.
Increasingly, the nature of the business relationship between the two countries is shifting to tech.
That is in pair with Nigeria consistently turning into Africa’s unofficial capital for VC, startups, rising founders, and the entry of Silicon Valley companies.
By 2018 numbers, depending on the study, the country ranked first or second for tech investment on the continent. And into 2019, more of that is coming from American sources.
Goldman Sachs is a major backer of Jumia, Nigeria headquartered e-commerce venture that became the first VC funded tech company in Africa to IPO on a major exchange, the NYSE in 2019.
Goldman also led a $20 million round last year for Nigerian trucking logistics company Kobo360.
The U.S. bank’s investment in tech companies operating in Nigeria runs parallel to those by Visa, Mastercard, and SalesForce Ventures.
Nigerian tech is also home to a growing number of founders with ties to the U.S. and startups with operations in both countries. Nigerian fintech company Flutterwave, whose clients range from Uber to Cardi B, is headquartered in San Francisco with operations in Lagos. The company maintains a developer team of Africans across both countries for its B2B payments platform that helps American companies operating in Africa get paid.
MallforAfrica — a Nigerian e-commerce company that enables partners such as Macy’s, Best Buy and Auto Parts Warehouse to sell in Africa — is led by Chris Folayan, a Nigerian who studied and worked in the U.S. The company now employs Nigerians in Lagos and Americans at its Portland processing plant.
Africa’s leading VOD startup, iROKOtv maintains a New York office that leads to the production of the Nigerian (aka Nollywood) content it creates and streams globally.
Andela, a tech-talent accelerator with over a $180 million in VC, was co-founded by American Jeremy Johnson and Nigerian entrepreneur Iyinoluwa Aboyeji. The company has offices in New York and Lagos and employs over 1000 engineers.
In the course of the last five years, Silicon Valley’s ties to Africa and Nigeria have grown. There are a number of Nigerians working in senior positions in the Bay Area, such as Ime Archibong at Facebook — the U.S. company that opened an innovation lab in Nigeria in 2018, called NG_Hub.
Adding Nigeria to the U.S. travel ban would be a mistake for tech development of both countries, believes Bosun Tijani, CEO of Lagos based CcHub, now Africa’s largest innovation incubator.
“Nigeria’s a strategic country for well-established companies, such as Google and Facebook. Twitter’s founder visited just a few months ago,” Tijani said, referring to Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey.
On the impact of a full travel ban, Tijani said, “The implications would be serious for both sides. U.S. companies will suffer and Nigerian companies will suffer.”
Additionally, he referenced the increasing level of tech capacity fostering between the two countries. “With the importance of Nigeria to U.S. tech companies and the pool of talent that exists in Nigeria, there’s too much at stake to mess around with some visa ban. The embassies already do their work to vet people properly,” he said.
Adding Nigeria to the travel ban would antagonistically affect the work CcHub does with its American partners, which include Facebook and Google. “That’s the reason I come to the U.S. I’ve never been to the country on holiday, it’s always for business with them,” said Tijani.
Another impact of restricting entry of Nigerians into the U.S. could be to turn more of Nigeria’s techies away from U.S. partnerships and toward China. The country has been pivoting its strategic relationship with Africa to the continent’s tech scene.
In the last two quarters of 2019, over 15 Chinese actors invested over $240 million in VC in Africa. Startups in Nigeria received over $210 million of it.