Today it’s Olugbenga ‘GB’ Agboola the Chief Executive Officer of Africa’s most valued technology startup – Flutterwave, the other day it was Elizabeth Holmes, and not so long ago it was Travis Kalanick the man who founded Uber. The common denominator about these individuals is that they were tech executives accused of serious misconduct. For some, it led to serious consequences. This time around the focus is on GB who founded the leading fintech company in the African continent.
He is accused by former Flutterwave employees of insider trading, employee abuse, and financial misconduct. According to a story by David Hundeyin who runs the West Africa Weekly blog, there’s enough evidence to suggest that there’s a reason to be concerned. All of these accusations are serious enough to attract the attention of the Securities Exchange Commission in the United States as the fintech company is headquartered in San Francisco, US. If they are proven to be true they will shake the Nigerian fintech sector and confirm some investors’ negative perceptions about the African tech sector.
Irrespective of what the outcome will be around the Flutterwave executive, the tech ecosystem (investors, founders, and other key stakeholders) in Africa needs to conduct some form of self-introspection.
Flutterwave is one of the few tech startups that has managed to break through without the normal way in which African tech startups rise to the top. They seemed to have avoided the practice of co-opting a non-African founder to improve their chances of securing an investment. Current allegations seem to suggest that they may have used unconventional means of boosting their investment case.
Some investors have suggested that this will just strengthen the case of investors who had a negative view of the African tech sector. Self-reflection by the local tech sector should lead to transparency measures designed to improve the trust of local founders. Under normal circumstances, the ideal way of approaching tech startups would be to treat all tech startups and their founders the same way. The unfortunate reality is that the allegations against GB will likely just fuel investor distrust and inspire more fronting in the African continent.
As far as allegations against Flutterwave CEO, there’s no question that the ideal move for him is to speak out about the matter. Hiding under the Silicon Valley rock will not help even if he is innocent. If there are detractors behind these allegations that should also form part of his communication. The impact of this development will not only hurt Flutterwave and Nigerian fintech only but it will have repercussions for the entire African tech ecosystem even though that would be an unfair outcome.
The Nigerian fintech sector is not a replica of the entire African tech startup ecosystem. There are good people in the ecosystem who are building great companies. The challenge here is that the investor community tends to view the sector through a single lens.
The reality however is that this should not be seen as just an African problem but a global tech startup ecosystem issue. The story of Elizabeth Holmes, Travis Kalanick, Adam Neumann, and others are great examples of CEOs whose actions tarnished their companies. The tech sector is in serious need of governance measures to avoid leaders who act in a manner that tarnishes the industry and their companies.
Why does this matter? Why in tech should we talk about ethics and governance? Technology governs most parts of our lives and it will continue to be an important part of our lives. Health will be governed by tech. Finance will continue to be processed and governed by tech. Those who create technologies cannot be questionable characters. If founders with questionable conduct are allowed to create and manage our technology they will create technologies that will be problematic for society in general. Artificial intelligence is not going to make itself but it will be made possible by data that is compiled by people. If those people are untrustworthy they will create technologies that cannot be relied upon.
If Flutterwave was built through corrupt means and continues to violate financial regulations it should not be allowed to build the financial foundations that will shape the future of Africa’s financial ecosystem.
In a Clubhouse discussion, David Hundeyin has indicated that Olugbenga ‘GB’ Agboola may be arrested for what he has done. May he not go down with the entire industry.
Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of Fast Company (SA) magazine