Luke Mckend: Seeing the potential in Africa

Luke Mckend, Country Manager, Google SA (Image: File photo)

Returning to South Africa after 12 years in the UK has been a genuinely positive experience for Luke Mckend, newly appointed Google SA Country Manager. Having officially taken up his position at the beginning of January, Mckend is excited about working with the Google SA team to expand the company’s offerings locally and across Africa.

Despite being the third candidate to take up the reins in South Africa over the past three years, Mckend is optimistic about his new position and the opportunities it presents him.

“The most important thing you can do as a Google manager is create the space for other people to be as successful as possible.” Mckend said during an interview with

Google SA plans to double their operation from twenty to forty staff in line with two key trends: growth in the internet economy in South Africa, and to accommodate Google’s new, expansive approach to Africa as a whole.

Elaborating on this, Mckend says that Google intends to follow certain key themes in 2011. Some of the recent staff appointments are to “support our clients and make sure that we are engaging with our client base in a way which helps them make the best return on the investment which they put into their digital marketing strategies.”

The second theme ties in much more closely with what is happening in the rest of Africa. “We are focused on facilitating broader access to the internet. Once you’ve got access to internet it’s always great to have access to local content and there’s a dearth of local content across the continent. We’d like to believe that we are in a position to try and facilitate and create circumstances in which local content can flourish.”

Google has been aggressive in its drive to increase Android’s market share in Africa. The mobile operating system is well suited to the African internet ecosystem where people’s first internet experience might be on a mobile phone, not on a desktop computer. Google has a Nairobi-based team working with volunteer groups from across Africa to increase the number of African languages their search and translate services are offered in. More than one hundred of these translation workshops were held in Africa in 2010. This concerted push ties in closely with Google’s third major theme, personal relevance.

Google is intensely focused on making their products relevant in Africa’s dynamic marketplace. “Making sure all the services we provide, in South Africa in particular, are locally relevant. That could be commercial services relevant to local circumstances. It could also be about localisation in different languages, for instance. It could be about engaging with our community in a way that makes sense.”

Mckend quashed suggestions that Google might be interested in acquiring Twitter. “Speculation on that level would not be appropriate.” He would rather we focus on Google’s efforts to build the internet ecosystem by introducing products such as StreetView, hotpot and voice-search in African languages. An exciting addition to Google search, is the RealTime extension which indexes news and Twitter feeds as they happen. “It would be great if more people took that up because you could get some real insight by seeing what people are searching for right now.” Mckend said.

By Angela Meadon


  1. This drive of Google’s to promote Hotpot is a little puzzling to me. I can’t see how it can be all that valuable… or maybe I’m missing the point.

    The explicit drive around Android is encouraging. Hopefully that means ZAR support in the Android Market and Voice Navigation for Google Maps for Android and Google Voice in SA – three of Android’s biggest selling points in the US that aren’t available here.

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