By Paul Ndiho
Perhaps you’ve heard of the saying, “If your dreams do not scare you, they’re not big enough.”  Well, that doesn’t apply to 15-year-old, Hope Frank, a self-taught mechanical engineer who once dreamt of building his own excavator — and now he’s done it.


Nigerian teenager Hope Emmanuel Frank is a budding, self-taught engineer, who lives in a remote town in southern Nigeria.   His ability to invent earth moving equipment using wood, and syringes are remarkable.  Frank used his passion for inventing, to design this mini-caterpillar excavator.  He discovered his love for engineering when he was just five years old.  Frank manually controls his excavator using syringes, plungers, and wires as hydraulics, to get his home-made machine to scoop and dump sand.

“I like creation; I like people who are inventors. They say that inventors try many times and still failed. I did this for one year before I succeed it.”


Frank’s latest invention has made him a mini-celebrity in his neighborhood, and it’s paying off as a sign of their support.

“They told me this boy is trying to build an excavator. This is something that I see in Europe, and I am now seeing it here, so I am very grateful and happy for this small boy.”

Frank wants to study engineering, but he lacks the necessary funds and there is no college or university nearby where he can study to realize his dreams.  But, despite the challenges, he remains optimistic.

“There are no materials here in Uyo. We don’t have materials here in Akwa Ibom state, so you need to import, you create your account online to import the materials, so my biggest challenge is money.”

Hope Frank’s mini-excavator isn’t ready for prime time just yet, but he believes with the right support and opportunity he can become one of Africa’s greatest innovators.  And his dream can one day become a reality.




By Paul Ndiho

Demonstrations led by young adults, the unemployed, professional organizations and religious groups are now a driving force for political change across Africa.


Africa’s political leaders are paying more attention to changes in their ranks due to popular uprisings, despite deadly crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters by government security services.   In recent years, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, and Sudan, have all witnessed major political change due to sustained mass protests.

After lengthy and difficult negotiations, Sudan’s ruling military council and pro-democracy leaders signed a constitutional declaration on Sunday, paving the way for a transition to civilian rule after more than seven months of demonstrations and violence.  Under the agreement, signed in the capital, Khartoum, a joint civilian-military ruling body will oversee the formation of a civilian government and parliament to govern for a three-year transition period leading to democratic elections.

“We have entered these negotiations as partners in national justice. And we have exited these negotiations as one team.  Our concern is the whole of Sudan. We have come out after the national will has been victorious. The result is that there is no winner or loser because the interest of the nation stands above all in this agreement.”

Protest movement leader Ahmed Rabie signed the declaration at a ceremony attended by African Union and Ethiopian mediators.  The declaration was the result of tense negotiations between the leaders of mass protests, which erupted last December against the three-decade rule of President Omar al-Bashir, and the generals who ousted him in April.

“This constitutional declaration, which has just been signed, opens a new page in the history of our nation. It constructs a new milestone for this revolution. It constructs the atmosphere and path for the making of the establishment of a transitional government, which will look to the demands of the revolution, to which Sudan has given the blood of its dear sons and daughters.”

Hundreds of people celebrated in the streets, dancing, chanting revolutionary songs, waving national flags and sounding horns.

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, 95-year-old was forced to resign as President in November 2017. His resignation came a week after the army, and his former political allies moved against him, ending four decades of rule by a man who turned from independence hero to typical strongman.

Wild celebrations broke out in the capital Harare – People danced and cheered as they heard the news, alongside members of the military.

In the Gambia, a similar popular uprising in January 2017, triggered the exodus of long-leader time leader Yahya Jammeh, after he refused to step down and hand over power to Adama Barrow who won the 2016 presidential election.    Under “Operation Restore Democracy” — The Economic Community of West African States decided to intervene militarily in the Gambia.  The intervention ousted Jammeh, who had seized power in a 1994 coup — and had vowed to rule the West African nation of 1.8 million people for “a billion years.”  Before fleeing into exile in Equatorial Guinea, Jammeh ruled the Gambia with an iron fist, amassing unexplained wealth, while the majority of the population lived in poverty.  In his wake, Jammeh left a fleet of presidential planes and luxury cars.  Now the government is looking to sell those items to raise millions of dollars for the country’s health and education systems.

In Burkina Faso five years ago, a popular revolt played out on the streets of the capital, Ouagadougou, as thousands of protesters and activists stormed the country’s parliament as MP’s prepared to vote to allow long-ruling President Blaise Compaore extend his 27-year-rule.

The mass demonstrations lasted two days and marked a turning point in the country’s history, which ended with Compaore being ousted and forced to flee.  He currently resides in exile in neighboring Ivory Coast, where he has become a citizen.  Ivory Coast refuses to extradite him to Burkina Faso.


By Paul Ndiho
Commuters using Google Maps while navigating through traffic in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, can now hear travel advice in a local voice.  Google Maps Nigeria -1
Uber driver Maxwell Edet has just received a request to pick up a client on a busy Lagos route, the Lekki-Epe Express Way.  He relies heavily on Google Maps to avoid the city’s infamous congested streets and also to accurately locate his clients.
Until now, Edet says that for the three years he has been at the wheel, he has often struggled to understand the accent used by the app to describe local destinations.  But now he hears travel advice in a local voice on Google Maps, under new features aimed at attracting more users in Africa. The local accents feature, unveiled recently at an event in Lagos, is also available on Google Assistant.   It’s the first move by the U.S. technology giant to offer such a service in Africa.
“It is better now because most of our drivers were not understanding most of the English that the woman was speaking, but now that the woman is speaking typical Nigerian English, I think everyone can enjoy it. It is better,”

Rapidly expanding populations, increased mobile phone penetration, and crowded cities that often have poor sign-posts have led technology firms to identify African countries as potential growth areas.  They are now offering transport features from detailed maps to motorcycle ride-hailing services. Google says it motorcycle directions is set to become available in Benin, Ghana, Rwanda, Togo and Uganda.
The technology behemoth says it is aiming to capture new users and expand its appeal beyond just drivers.  Jeff Albertson is a Google senior product manager who worked on the new development.
“We heard from users that when moving around Lagos, external factors like weather, the traffic situation and the overall business of the Danfo, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) buses may affect decision making so to help users make an informed decision when planning their travel, I am thrilled to announce a new traffic tap just for Lagos.”
Google partners with local startup Road Preppers Technologies to gather data on different routes and aims to tell users the best options available based on traffic, weather, and road conditions.
The map will include information on the expected fare, travel time, and even photos of the bus stop to help guide commuters. Outside Lagos, Google is expanding its street view imagery to Abuja, Benin City, Enugu, and Ibadan.
“The Nigerian accent, it will help because it is not everybody that understand the American accent sometimes like what is this person saying.  So the Nigerian accent version could like help you know help the common man in the street,”
Rabiat Aparalara, a youth corp member, says he hasn’t picked-up a distinction between the different Google voices.
“I have not noticed this, and I have not noticed the difference between the Nigerian voice and the American voice. I still feel it is still the same thing,”
Google is working hard to expand in West Africa, especially Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, with an estimated 190 million citizens.
Google unveiled WiFi hot spots across Lagos last year — and in 2017, it launched a program to teach millions of Africans technology skills in order to make them more employable.


By Paul Ndiho

A new global report, Barometer Africa 2019, released jointly by corruption watch groups Transparency International and Afro-Barometer, reveals that corruption is getting worse on the continent.  STA Africa Corruption Report 2019 CLEAN

Winning the fight against corruption continues to be an uphill battle.  A majority of citizens surveyed in 35 African countries think that corruption is getting worse and that their government is doing a poor job of fighting the vice, according to a new report on global corruption.

But the situation appears to be looking more positive, as the leaders of some countries take measures to address corruption.  The presidents of Nigeria and Kenya, are making clean governance a priority.  Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is waging a battle against corruption, but it remains rampant under his leadership.
Meanwhile, Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, while speaking to VOA last year, also pledged to stamp out corruption.

“I believe we’re going to win this war. There is tremendous commitment.  I believe now we have an institutional framework that will be able to deliver reliable results. The political commitment is there. The will of the people of Kenya is committed to seeing an end to corruption. And I believe that this time we shall succeed in that endeavor.”

Kenyatta is making fighting graft a top priority, but critics say he has been slow to pursue top officials. No high profile convictions have occurred since he took office and some activists are very concerned.

“My message to the world concerning corruption in Kenya, we have a serious accountability issue, and cartels are protected, thieves are protected, and we have to bring that to an end.”

On the streets of Nairobi, many Kenyans have their doubts that any graft investigations will see looted funds recovered or culprits prosecuted.

“Unless we see the big fish, given thorough jail terms, for example, five years ten years, then we will say that the government is working, at the moment that has not happened.”

Kenyan Finance Minister, Henry Rotich, has pleaded not guilty to corruption charges linked to the construction of two dams, a rare example of a sitting minister facing prosecution in the East Africa nation.  The country’s top prosecutor ordered Rotich and 27 other officials are arrested and charged over a multi-million dollar contract procurement scandal.

“Given the international nature of these crimes we realize that we cannot fight corruption on our own, and as a strategy to fighting economic crimes, the office of the director of public prosecution has prioritized the tracing of proceeds of crime, benefits, and instruments of crime, asset confiscation, and forfeiture.”

Over 50 Kenyan civil servants were charged in court in May amid an investigation into the theft of nearly $100 million of public funds, in a rare move to hold officials accountable for graft in a nation where it is widespread.

“It is an important step forward, it could be a defining moment, but I would say that it is still too early to say that this is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Of course, opening charges against the person who has been in charge of public finance policy in this country is a significant step.”


By Paul Ndiho

Africa’s new Continental Free Trade Area is being hailed as the largest free trade area in the world since the World Trade Organization was founded in January 1995. The economic pact aims to boost cross-border trade by reducing or eliminating tariffs and red tape.Screen Shot 2019-07-25 at 9.07.19 AM

After nearly four years of talks, an agreement to form the African Continental Free Trade Agreement was ratified in Niger earlier this month. The new trade initiative brings together 1.2 billion people, creates a $3.4 trillion economic bloc and ushers in a new era of development.

Shaka Ssali, while appearing on VOA’s Shaka Extra Time internet broadcast, says the timing of this trade pact could not have come at a better time.  He also says credit should go to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who started this initiative and was one of the first people to sign it in March 2018.

“Frankly we should give credit to the man who can up with the idea and pushed it through  Despite a lot of NAY Sayers and that is the Rwandan President Major Gen. Paul Kagame. There are a lot of people who thought that this idea was not possible, especially because two African giants, South Africa, and Nigeria were reluctant to embrace the concept.”

After months of reluctance over competition concerns, Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, at the African Union Summit in Niger launched the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement by signing Africa’s largest economy into the deal.  But, while there is much hope that pan-African trade will grow, structural weaknesses are expected to make it a slow process.

“I am very interested because I think I will get one of the countries around and open my office, even if it’s a showroom for me to move my products directly.”

Inter-regional trade in Africa currently accounts for only 17 percent of the continent’s total exports, compared to 69 percent in Europe and 59 percent in Asia. Pat Utomi, a Nigerian professor of political economy and management expert, says this trade deal could drive Africa’s numbers up to 52 percent.

“African countries stand to profit also from Nigeria being engaged.  It will not only lead to Nigeria’s economy to becoming bigger but lead to those other African economies to becoming stronger and much bigger.  So together, the mutual benefit of trade will lead to elevating the African status away from the poverty of today.”

African exporters want the free trade area to eliminate barriers and create free movement between states.

“African trade today is conducted on the U.S. dollar, Euro and including the Renminbi, (the official currency of China).  What this is doing is to reduce the use of three currencies in the bilateral trade settlement in Africa.   Because we estimate that that cost Africa between five to seven billion dollars.  Beyond that, it also reduces the trade, because Africa has a scarcity of foreign exchange.”

Brook Hailu Besha, a journalism professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, says Eritrea, Africa’s only non-signatory to the trade pact, says it will seriously consider signing the agreement.

“It is said that the Eritrean government did not believe in the merits and the goodness of this new Africa trade association and to line up with fellow African sisters and brothers. No country has succeeded in the world by isolating itself.”

Once fully operational, the free trade accord is projected to boost the level of intra-Africa trade by more than 52 percent, by the year 2022, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa.




By Paul Ndiho
Motorcycle taxi companies are expanding in West Africa, thanks to support from investors betting on the sudden rise of two-wheeled taxi firms in Asia.  Can this success be replicated in some of the fastest-growing economies in Africa?

A54 Motorcycle Taxi in Nigeria PKG

Motorbike taxi firms are now battling it out on the streets of Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos.  As Nigeria’s oldest motorcycle taxi firm, is planning to expand across the country and launch in Ghana and Ivory Coast.

The company’s app-based platform organizes motorcycle taxi and delivery services for individuals and businesses.  The firm has also recently been infused with $7 million dollars from investors.

Informal motorcycle taxis operate across Nigeria, where they are known as “Okada.” Two-wheeled ride-hailing firms are hoping to lure passengers seeking rides that are safe and fast.

New motorcycle transit companies hope to win a measurable market share by offering teams of trained drivers, safer equipment, and the convenience of booking rides through a mobile app.   Some are looking to turn their ride-hailing apps into one-stop mobile shops offering a host of services from e-payments and deliveries to insurance.

“I see them like they are more executive; you feel more secure. I believe they should be trained before they are allowed to ride on Gokada, unlike common Okada on the road, you see some people that are already drunk, they are already high, so you can’t control them. I know if I have a complain I can always go to Gokada website and lodge my complaint there. Everybody wants faster movement in Lagos, we all know Lagos, but we are still afraid of the normal Okada.”

Rival ride-hailing companies typically have a mobile app, but also allow passengers to hail available drivers.  Gokada launched in Lagos in January 2018.  Founder Falim Saleh says, so far, the company has raised US$5 million in 2019 – and it plans to start rolling out new services, like repair centers and rider training schools across West Africa.

“The reality is that the infrastructure is not meant to handle so many cars and to do major infrastructural projects like trains will take a long time, and there are so many Okada that they are here to stay at least for a while, so why not make the best of it, right? Why not make sure they are riding safely, why not track them, why not give them proper permits and make the best of the situation instead of just ignoring what the reality is.” also operates in several southern Nigerian cities.  Okadas have come under so much criticism for unpredictable driving and accidents, that in 2012, Lagos banned motorcycles with a cylinder capacity below 200 cc’s from using major roads or the bridges that criss-cross the city built around a lagoon.  Jude Okoro, left his job as a clerk over a year ago to become a Gokada driver.

“I was actually interested in their vision, the vision of saving people’s time, taking them to their destination safe and sound, and I wanted to be part of that vision and at the same time to actually increase my financial capabilities so that I can do more.” plans to launch in three other west African cities – in Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria – by the end of 2019, according to co-founder Adetayo Bamiduro.’s target is to reach 2 million rides by mid-2020 – up from 200,000 trips in May 2019 – as a result of the West African expansion.

“Nigerians principally…mostly move around either on motorcycles or in mini-busses and these are two spaces that have not seen a lot of normalization and structure even as we speak, right. So if you combine all the organized and structured ride-hailing platforms and transport companies till date, there is still less than one percent of the total market.”

Africa offers enormous potential for motorcycle ride-hailing firms, for example in East Africa, where two-wheeled taxis known as “Boda boda” are already accessible.  Car ride-hailing giant Uber, last year launched its two-wheeled Uber BODA service in Kampala and Nairobi, but the company says it does not have plans to launch a similar service in Nigeria.

The Ugandan company, SafeBoda, which was founded in 2015 and launched in Nairobi last year, says it’s in the process of launching in Nigeria. SafeBoda says it also plans to expand into at least 20 other African cities.

Both Gokada and said the average cost of a trip was around US$2. Most Nigerians live on less than that sum each day.  But there are no signs of interest waning from firms planning to launch in the region.



By Paul Ndiho

Online retail stores that target the middle-class are on the rise in Africa. The stores are aiming to meet a demand for products that conventional retail stores appear to be struggling to satisfy. But Jumia Food, a unit of Jumia Technologies, is looking beyond the middle-class and plan to offer cheaper options to attract lower-income earners. A54 Jumia Technologies PKG-1

Jumia is Africa’s largest e-commerce platform primarily for electronics, fashion, and appliances that connects sellers with consumers. In April, upon being listed on the New York Stock Exchange, it became Africa’s first sub-Saharan unicorn – a private company with a value of at least $1 billion dollars – to test the sub-Saharan public market.

Commonly dubbed as the Amazon of Africa, the platform delivers food and beverages to 11 African countries, joining other multi-national companies such as Uber and China’s Huawei Technologies who are looking to grow their customer base on the continent beyond the middle class. 


“We are also looking now to target this mass-market customer that is starting to come online over the last couple of years for the first time realizing that the level of basic convenience and assortment is not just the preserve of the upper classes. It’s now available to the mass market because of the level of sophistication of technology, the level of experience that we now bring to on-demand means that we can hit a price point that’s attractive to them.”

Jumia Food has one-million customers across 30 African cities, including Lagos and Casablanca.  Kenya, however, is its biggest market. Its platform there has 4,000 restaurants offering everything from local cuisine to international fast food – from the likes of KFC, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s.

Jumia follows Uber, which introduced a low-cost, quick-trip option called Chap Chap to users in Kenya in 2018. It has also added a motorcycle service in Uganda and rickshaws in Tanzania.


“You knew five years ago, six years ago I considered this to be a food delivery business and what happened over the years is that we built up a huge base of customers eloped profound expertise in on-demand delivery technology, and when you have those two assets we recognize that food is probably the biggest opportunity that we have in the market, but we can leverage those assets to serve customers in other areas.”

The online giant is betting that as more Africans reach middle-class status — people whose average daily spending is between $2 to $20, according to the African Development Bank, the demand for their services will rise.

“So we have around 4,000 vendors on the platform, and the way I like to think about it is that we have roughly, I’d say maybe 99 percent or so of the vendors that we want to have on the platform. On the vendors’ side, it’s not a numbers game, and it’s a quality and assortment and trust game.”

Africa’s growing population is expected to lead to an increase in consumer spending to $2.2 trillion dollars by 2030 – from $680 billion in 2008, according to the African Development Bank, and other UN Agencies.

Jumia’s shares skyrocketed after an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. It raised $196 million dollars, selling 13.5 million American depositary shares at $14.50 each, within the expected range of $13-to-$16. 

The Lagos, Nigeria-based tech firm now has over four million customers. But critics say the retail platform isn’t profitable, despite its sales jumping by almost 40 percent to $147 million dollars last year. 

Sudan’s Military and Pro-Democracy Movement Sign a Power-Sharing Deal

By Paul Ndiho
After weeks of violent protests and difficult negotiations, Sudan’s protesters and ruling generals signed a deal that aims to install a civilian administration, a key demand of demonstrators since president Omar al-Bashir was deposed in a coup three months ago.

Screen Shot 2019-07-17 at 1.58.46 PM

Sudan’s ruling military and the pro-democracy movement on Wednesday signed a political document that’s part of a power-sharing deal meant to end the country’s deadlock after weeks of stalled talks.

The two sides – representatives from the military council and the forces for declaration of freedom and change – signed a so-called political declaration, one of two documents that are part of the deal, at a ceremony in Khartoum.

The other document, a constitutional declaration, is likely to be signed within days, perhaps as early as Friday.

The signing is a key step in Sudan’s transition after months of street protests that prompted the military to oust autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir and take over the country in April. Mohamoud Dirir, Ethiopian Mediator.

“It is a great moment that the people of Sudan have reached this historic moment the parties, I would not say different entities of Sudan, but a unit a united front that represents the gallant army of the Sudan, the transitional military council and of course the revolutionary youth, intellectuals who have taken to the streets to stand for democracy.”

Sudan has endured a wave of protests over the deteriorating economic conditions and price hikes of essential commodities since mid-December 2018. Long-time President Omar al-Bashir was ousted in a coup by the military in April.  He tightly ruled Sudan for 30 years.

In the days following the coup, the military generals announced that they would set up a transitional military council to run the country for up to two years — but pro-democracy demonstrators firmly rejected that plan.

In early July, the Transitional Military Council and the coalition of pro-democracy groups called the “Forces for Freedom and Change” reached an agreement, ending the dispute between via a joint sovereign council with power shifting between military and civilian leadership.

Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, deputy chairman of the Transitional Military Council and chief of the Rapid Support Forces, says the agreement covers everybody.

“The deal that we have been waiting for a long time has been agreed on, and this agreement needs unity and purity of intent.”

The African Union and Ethiopian officials also assisted in mediating the deal.

Omar al-Dkir, a representative of the Forces for Freedom and Change, says the government now has its eyes clearly on the peace deal.

“This agreement opens the way for the establishment of institutions of Transitional Authority, which will carry out reform programs in the political, economic, and social fields. One of the priorities of this government will be to focus on the cause of peace.”

A lot of mistrust surfaced between the two sides when government security forces killed dozens of people when they broke-up a sit-in demonstration in June.  But with the help of mediators, the two parties ironed-out their differences to establish a sovereign council, rotating between the military and civilians for three years.

After the agreement was announced, thousands of people took to streets in jubilation, waving Sudanese flags, dancing and embracing each other.



By Paul Ndiho

Historically black U.S. colleges and universities like Morehouse and Howard are a familiar presence at the independence celebrations of several African countries. HBCU’s play a critical role in ensuring that African Americans, Africans and students of all races, receive a quality education. sta package fix

Historically black U.S. colleges and universities produced many of the leaders from the civil rights era. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. graduated from Morehouse College, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Fisk University, Rev. Jesse Jackson, North Carolina A&T, Ambassador  Andrew Young, Howard University and Congressman John Lewis also graduated from Fisk University.

But less is known about the immense contributions HBCU’s had in molding and developing leaders in the struggle for the independence of countries in Africa.  This generation of leaders was very outspoken in advocating for the rights of Africans and in fighting for the independence of many new nations.

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who became Nigeria’s first president in 1963, was a classmate of famed American poet Langston Hughes and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Prime Minister of Ghana, first African country to gain independence, graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Malawi’s first president, graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.

Today, there are over 100 historically black colleges and universities across America granting over 50,000 degrees to students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds according to a Pew Research Study.  VOA’s own Ndimyake Mwakalyelye, is a graduate of Howard University.

“Howard University gave me the foundation. I got my first degree there. It was a question of understanding what does it means to study, and what does it mean to be informed about the discipline and the area of choice that you’ve identified as your career path… It opened my eyes as well to the experience of black American culture, history of slavery, and how these historically black colleges to keep that memory flesh and it’s very integral.”

Many historically black institutions of higher learning, like Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, Spelman College and Morehouse College in Atlanta and Howard University in Washington, DC are continuing to play a significant role in educating students and empowering the African American community. Attending any university is now a very expensive proposition.  Terry Hartle, of the American Council on Education represents thousands of colleges and universities across the United States.

“It’s a terrible problem that we face as a country.  We want more and more post-secondary education.  We want more focus on academic quality and graduation.  At the same time, the funding sources for higher education have been diminishing for a generation.”


For the past 30 years, college tuition in the U.S. has been rising at twice the rate of inflation — and private schools now charge an average of more than $30,000 a year.  Earlier this year, billionaire American philanthropist Robert F. Smith pledged to pay off the student loan debt of the 2019 Morehouse graduates.  He says college should be affordable.

“We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus. My family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

U.S. President Donald Trump is also supporting HBCU’s.

“I’m proud to say that my budget continues America’s commitment to helping HBCU’s improve their competitiveness, requesting more than half a billion dollars for HBCU focused programs. Further, the recent budget deal allows for the forgiveness of any outstanding loans owed under the HBCU.”

Historically black colleges and universities continue to be a major educational pipeline in preparing young people to serve in their chosen endeavors.




A Coding Academy in Johannesburg

By Paul Ndiho

South Africa is facing a severe shortage of developers leaving significant sectors such as financial institutions struggling to recruit employees with critical computer skills.  Now, a small, alternative academy in Johannesburg is working to change that deficit.

A54 South African Coding School PKG-1
There are no teachers or classes, and students don’t need to have any prior experience or qualifications to enroll at the “We Think Code” academy in South Africa.  Instead, the program focuses on peer-to-peer training for students to learn how to develop websites and apps. Students are selected through an intensive boot camp that sees only the top one percent with quantitative skills admitted to the school.  Nyaradzai Samushonga is the chief executive at We-Think-Code.

“Our universities are doing a great job, of delivering technical skills that are desperately needed within the business space. The reality is that they can’t keep up with the demand. And the university channel focuses on a particular type of high school education, which then feeds into what they do. A program like WeThinkCode_ democratizes the opportunity by saying ‘it doesn’t matter what your prior educational background is, it doesn’t matter what your prior social background is, you could be born to code and here’s an opportunity to include you in the economics of technology.”

Unemployment in Africa’s most advanced economy has remained high since the end of the apartheid era 25 years ago.  South Africa’s government says youth unemployment is a “national crisis.”  The 15 to 34 age group accounts for almost two-thirds of the country’s jobless.  But We Think Code says it wants to help improve things and be part of a solution.  About 98 percent of the students who’ve graduated from the program are now employed.

“Well we’ve seen that if you’re able to train one skilled developer successfully, that impact that individual has is on 10 to 15 other individuals in that person’s environment because they’re creating employment, they’re bringing more efficiency into the workplace, they’re creating more profitable businesses enabling companies to employ even more people. So the impact that one skilled developer has is on 15 other individuals. If we’re able to produce an extra 100,000 skilled developers across the country, we have 1.5 million people that can be employed in the country.”

The program, however, is struggling to recruit girls. Only 17 percent of the We Think Code students are female.  One of the aims of the program is to dedicate more resources to challenge perceptions that coding is only for males.
Software programmer and Geekulcha community manager, Skinny Shugo Kgwedi says there is a growing need for South African youth to have coding skills so they can have leverage when looking for jobs.

“I’d say coding is important because we are evolving in a technological world whereby, you get to build anything. So if you are starting a business and you need a website, you might pay a lot of money for a website. So if you know how to code, you can build your website which will be less. It gives you a chance whereby you get jobs easier; you get hired easier because a lot of companies now are involving in technology because of the 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution).”

Convincing young South Africans to learn how to code remains an uphill battle. Only four-of-ten public schools have a computer lab, according to the South African Institute of Race Relations.  Expensive data prices and a lack of internet infrastructure outside of Gauteng and Cape Town means that millions of students eager to learn coding are left without access to the internet.

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