The first African winner in Google’s annual coding competition is 370km (230 miles) from home, sitting outside his cousins’ house in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde, because the government has cut off his hometown from the internet.
As cocks crow in the background, 17-year-old Nji Collins Gbah tells the BBC about the series of complex technical tasks he completed for Google between November and mid-January.
Nji had thrown himself into the contest, using knowledge gained from two years of learning how to code, mainly from online sources and books, as well as other skills he was picking up on the fly.
The prestigious Google Code-in is open to pre-university students worldwide between the ages of 13 and 17. This year more than 1,300 young people from 62 countries took part.
Samson Ogbole Takes Agriculture Innovation To Nigeria
With a merger of technology and agriculture, Samson Ogbole aims for self-sustainability to cope with the shortage of farming land in Nigeria. He introduced the method of growing crops in air to Nigerian Agriculture.
As the population grows, the land required for farming food to keep up with the growth is falling short. According to the International Trade Administration of the United States, the farmland under cultivation is 38% of the area required for food production.
Ogbole devised a farming strategy that rules out the use of soil. This will help in overcoming of food shortage for his people. This unconventional method is known as Aeroponics i.e. growing crops in the air.
Samson Ogbole Makes The Case For Growing Food In The Air
Ogbole began working with soilless farming back in 2014. He later founded PS Neutraceuticals, a company that aims for food security by implementing technology in agriculture for efficient food production. The process incorporates substitutes for soil and uses fertilizers for plant growth. According to Ogbole, one of the many advantages of this process is that “we can grow crops any time of the year.”
Without the use of soil, the pathogens residing in the soil can also be eliminated. So, this method also reduces the harm to production significantly. According to Ogbole, only 46% of the soil in Nigeria is fertile for crop growth. In an interview to CNN, he stated his belief that the “war of the future will be fought through agriculture.” Hence the role of technology in agriculture has become even more indispensable. The agricultural technology paves way for food production throughout the year independent of seasons. He intends to introduce smart sensor technologies in order to receive feedback from the production.
Ogbole always wanted to be a doctor when he was little. But now he aims to have a high level of food production for his nation, Nigeria. His goal is to eventually bring the idea forth to the world.'The future of the economy is dependent on the few people who have bright ideas that can think outside the box for us to latch on. Money does not solve problems, ideas solve problems.' - Samson Ogbole Click To Tweet
Ogbole is now devising campaigns that encourage the youth to take interest in agriculture since he is of the view that “people will always eat.” Food, being the prime need of life, will definitely never go out of trend.
Video Games Are Emerging in Africa With Strong African themes
Video games are becoming a booming industry in Africa thanks to a mushroom of innovators and developers on the continent. Startups are spiraling across the continent coming up with unprecedented games and content with African themes. The gaming industry in Africa is now worth millions of dollars due to relentless efforts of these developers, programmers, scientists, entrepreneurs and other tech gurus.
Madiba Guillaume Olivier had dreams like any other teenager when he was growing up in Cameroon. His most pressing dream was to move to America or even to Europe in order to pursue not “greener pastures” but his zeal for video games. He lived a life of video games because his father owned a video store. Olivier did not sit and wait; rather he went online in order to understand more about game design. However, it was not until when he was doing computer science at the University of Yaoundé that his dream (and that of the continent) started to bear fruit. He partnered with a group of friends to work on a project they dubbed Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan.
Video Games Project and the Prince of Planet Auriona
The project was a 2D flight of the imagination game that featured Enzo and Erine, a Prince and his fiancée. The two were embroiled in a quest to reclaim the lost power after a family member betrayed them in the planet Auriona. The team later improved the game design and used it to dive deeper into the industry. Olivier did not move to US or even Europe. The project led to a natural death of his dreams of moving but gave birth to even better dreams with continent-wide and later worldwide ramifications. Olivier and his team released the official version of the game in 2011 winning the hearts of fans, investors and everything else in between. That is how Africa got Kiro’o Games, the first video game studio to come up with an African-themed mythological video game.
“We started to think about the fact that we can make our own studio here [Africa] and sell games abroad,” Olivier remembers.
Olivier and his team are not the only innovators doing Africa proud in this emerging video game industry. In fact, over the last ten years, many video game developers and startups have sprung up across the continent. There are startups in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Tunisia and even in Egypt. Because of growth in funding opportunities and supporting accelerator tech hubs on the continent, Africa is moving beyond the confines that resulted from inadequate infrastructure in some countries. Traditional fintechs in Arica are now normal and nothing to write home about anymore. The continent is expanding beyond what has now become normal tech disruptions in education, health, insurance, agriculture into other areas. Now is the time for the gaming industry.
Other African Themed Video Games
The African narratives, myths, legends, traditions, stories, creativities, mysteries and other mystical societal characteristics are more frightening than Halloween. Or at least to those who understand why it is commemorated in the first place. Tapping into this social heritage and cultural material is a sure success path for the gaming industry. That is why a Moroccan Telcom has invested in a mobile game.
There are other notable gaming innovators doing exciting video games. This boom can be observed with The International Game Developers Association having seven chapters in Africa.
Some innovators in this space include:
- Ananse: The Origin by Leti Arts in Kenya, is a game based on impressive folklore from Ghana.
- Celestial Games and Thoopid are also doing Africa proud with magnificent games from the South of the continent.
- Ebola Strike Force that touches on the story of researchers and scientists yearning to save humankind from the lethal virus is breathtaking.
- Mzito by Weza Interactive Entertainment in Kenya is a game that takes users on a journey to save the continent. Here, you play as a lion and use ancient spirits to save Africa from ancient corruption. “We wanted to focus on the African theme on because we think it’s time for Africa,” George Ohere, the Weza Interactive CEO said recently.
- Sambisa Assault is another one that gives game enthusiasts the chance to join the fight against terror movements.
- The Okada Rider by ChopUp studio in Nigeria that simulates the notorious traffic congestion in the streets of Lagos.
- Digitalmania has more than 87 magnificent games on Google Play, Facebook, and Apple Store. Sadly, these tech giants do not allow merchant payments in Tunisia. Because of this, the innovator cannot get revenue from their innovations.
The African Video Game Industry by Revenue
AFRICAN INGENUITY: From Sardine-tin lamps to wooden fridges, These African “Frugal Innovators” Refuse To Be Limited By Their Circumstances
The discarded sardine tins, used mayonnaise jars and old tomato cans jumbled together on ‘s front porch look like a pile of trash someone forgot to throw out.
But retrieving a gleaming lid from the mess, he beams as if he has just found a piece of gold.
These everyday objects are treasure to the self-made inventor living in Bangui, the capital of war-ravaged Central African Republic, one of the world’s poorest countries.
In his tiny house of crumbling bricks, Bafounga collects what others throw away – and turns it into something useful.
He cuts shapes from tin cans and fixes them together with glass, string and a little petrol to produce storm-proof lanterns.
Bafounga is a shining example of the “frugal innovation” movement that has its roots in India, inspired by the notion of “jugaad”, a Hindi word meaning “improvising with whatever resources are available”. This trend of doing more with less has spread all over the world.
Bafounga devised his first lantern in Bambari when he was 15 and living with his older brother after his parents died. Unable to afford school fees and with time on his hands, he began tinkering with scrap materials.
Central African Republic’s second-largest city still has virtually no street lighting – perhaps not surprising in a country where little more than 10 percent of people had access to electricity in 2014, according to the World Bank.
Even in fortunate homes with one or two ceiling bulbs, the light often flickers off soon after sunset due to power cuts that plunge most of the town into darkness.
Now aged 35, making and selling lanterns remains Bafounga’s way to make a living. “They last until sunrise and cost 1,500 francs ($2.76) each,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Last year, Bafounga was one of 11 winners in a “Fab Lab” innovation competition run by the French embassy and Alliance Française, a French cultural center in Bangui, with financing from the European Union’s Bêkou Trust Fund.
The finalists, chosen from more than 100 applicants, received assistance to develop their products into businesses.
The aim is to “move away from handouts and focus on empowering the Central Africans to control their own future”, said Dermot Hegarty of the Danish Refugee Council, which runs the scheme along with aid agencies ACTED and Mercy Corps.
“Frugal innovation” is important in a country like Central African Republic, Hegarty said.
“Access to goods and materials is exceptionally difficult, so you have to be able to use everything at your disposal,” he explained.
The inventions offer simple solutions to everyday problems.
They include a shelling machine for the much-loved peanuts sold at markets and a cheese-maker run by a women’s collective, over half of whom lost their husbands to war and disease.
CREATIVITY FROM CRISIS
In the United States, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also has a Fab Lab program runs a “fab academy” that includes classes over the internet, director Sherry Lassiter told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
But Central African Republic – which ranked bottom of all countries in the latest Human Development Index, and has limited internet access – may seem an unlikely place for innovators.
The country has been riven by sectarian conflict since 2013 when Muslim-majority Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize, triggering a backlash by predominantly Christian and animist fighters.
Five years into the conflict, marked by successive waves of ethnic cleansing, the humanitarian situation is dire.
Almost 70 percent of families lack essentials such as clean drinking water, over three-quarters of the population live in poverty, and close to one-fifth have fled their homes amid violence, according to the World Bank and the United Nations.
Some say those pressures – combined with mass unemployment – are what drives people like Bafounga to be creative.
On the streets of Bambari where he grew up, a place where most inhabitants are displaced from their native villages, children play with toy trucks fashioned from sugar boxes and plastic bottle tops, held together with wooden toothpicks.
On a dusty roadside, two teenage boys sell lamps consisting of LED bulbs powered by batteries, made brighter by attaching them to old CDs that reflect the light.
Adolescents living in straw huts in a camp for displaced people in the middle of the city are busy hammering out buckets from curved sheets of metal, some ripped off homes by armed groups in the clashes that have rocked the area since 2014.
Joel Henri Baliba, 67, used to work in the airforce of the infamous self-crowned Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa, speaks Russian after a training stint in Ukraine in the 1970s, and is the proud inventor of the country’s first wooden refrigerator.
Though he retired in 2015, when a friend drew his attention to the innovation competition, he took up the challenge.
“A fridge is important for food conservation and also for medicine, but here most people don’t have fridges,” he said.
“The prices are very high, most people can’t afford one – that’s why I wanted to make something that costs less.”
By crafting the outer shell and interior from wood, which is plentiful, and using the usual refrigeration technology, Baliba can sell his product for up to 100,000 Central African francs ($184) cheaper than conventional fridges.
“We also allow people to pay in instalments,” he said, showing contracts signed with customers.
Before the competition, Baliba had never tried to invent anything. “But now I have more ideas!” he said.
Along with the other finalists, Baliba and Bafounga have received training in business and entrepreneurship.
Bafounga hopes to set up a permanent stall at a roadside market in central Bangui and employ others to help him, while Baliba already has a team of seven workers.
“It’s not quite a full salary, but we share what we earn,” Baliba said.
Emma Hesselink of the Center for Frugal Innovation in Africa, based in the Netherlands, said sub-Saharan Africa is a region where the resourceful approach “is increasingly regarded as a valuable innovation strategy”.
The center has supported Dutch scientists to design thermometers adapted for use across Africa, based on research carried out in Uganda.
Sometimes the process leads to “reverse innovation”, where cheaper, simpler products aimed at the African market become popular in developed countries, Hesselink added.
One danger is that it could trigger a race to the bottom in terms of labor and quality standards, she cautioned.
For Baliba, conflict is another risk. “During the crisis, we lost everything,” he added, describing how an armed group broke into his home and stole his belongings.
But now that the situation in Bangui is calmer, he is keen to share his experiences to encourage and teach others.Click To Tweet
“You don’t really need a high level of knowledge – you just need to think of things that exist already and… how to improve them,” he said. “Everyone can do that.”
($1 = 543.2900 Central African CFA franc BEAC) (Reporting by Inna Lazareva, Editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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