The introduction of an affordable smartphone in Ghana could be set to take the local mobile landscape to the next level. Kathryn Cave speaks to Kane Mani, the 25-year-old CEO and co-founder of app developer, Origgin about apps, Waakye and how technology can help solve Africa’s problems.
On 19th June this year, MTN Ghana launched the brand new Ascend Y210 in partnership with Huawei. This could be described as a milestone because by offering the country’s first affordable smartphone it could help drive data usage, increase business potential and through the availability of apps, help ease social issues. Priced at USD 81, this handset comes complete with 65 minutes of voice calls and 200MB of data each month for 12 months.
“Mobile technology is taking over the African market and Ghana is no different. Many persons in Ghana and Africa are mobile-first and probably will remain mobile-only.” Maxwell Donkor, co-founder of mPawa told recruiter.co.uk recently. Yet cheap second generation devices like this have the potential to exact a real impact on the marketplace.
The CEO of MTN described a smartphone adoption gap centred on price, which the Ascend Y210 aims to help rectify. He added in a statement that “MTN considers it our responsibility to ensure we explore innovative technological solutions that enable Ghanaians to boldly enter the digital world with solutions that meet their communications needs.”
Now, it is extremely easy to remain sceptical in the face of corporate fluff about “helping” communities, but funnily enough one thing that does seem to leap out in dealings with the African continent is that people really do want to help solve Africa’s problems. This is partly because health and social problems are so rife, but it may also be part and parcel of a pan-African culture which is extremely community focused even in the face of glaring inequality.
Many local businesses do look to address specific local issues. Take Origgin for example, an app developer based in Accra. One of its most popular products is an app called Waakye Locator. People outside of Ghana may not have heard of Waakye but “everyone in Ghana loves this food,” Kane Mani, the 25-year-old CEO and co-founder of Origgin tells me on the phone. Waakye, made by boiling rice and beans together, it is indeed a very popular dish and is sold by an extensive network of street vendors across Ghana. The benefit of the Waakye Locator is it helps join the dots in connecting sellers with customers.
Mani describes himself as an entrepreneur, technology visionary and idealist. He is not a developer, but his company builds mobile applications for smartphones and tablets and aims to solve local problems for both businesses and consumers. He is determined to make it a success and dropped out of college to give his business his full attention: “now I have a very fine, very promising company” he says, with a client list that includes Samsung and Vodafone. Most business interest comes from local organisations and multi-nationals based in Ghana.
“We want to solve problems in Ghana that haven’t been solved yet. We believe technology in Africa could be done in a different way to achieve results,” Mani explains. “We are constantly thinking of how to use smartphones and apps to meet the market need. There are many problems in Africa that are currently not being solved. We don’t do any technology in regards to SMS or web, we only do mobile technology. Mobile is the future.”
Mani’s passion for solving Ghanaian problems and those in Africa are palpable. He talks me through his working day which involves rising at 4am, arriving in the office by 6am and leaving by 10pm. The sense that something great can be achieved through sheer industry is clear: “This is the right time for Africa,” he says “Africans are looking for revolution and change. Trust me - there will be a big boom in Africa.”
However, he also describes a disconnect between the potential in available technology and the understanding of ordinary people. “You have to go out and educate the average Ghanaian about how the technology is going to affect them and how they can use it. This year we began a seminar called ‘A Day in Tech.’” The most recent, on 23rd July, featured technology entrepreneur, Herman Chinery-Hesse, who was described by the Guardian last year as the ‘Bill Gates of Ghana’. Mani tells me how these “bring a community of technologists and non-technologists together” to educate and train in the use of technology and social media.
Mani is also involved in a “Technology Africa project,” which is all about making sure the next generation of Africans are using technology to solve local issues. He regularly speaks at events and is even working on a book for publication in December called “Minkables: The Technology Side of Africa.” The activity levels are frenetic and Mani is proud to be part of a growing community of similar entrepreneurs on the ground in Accra.
“The world should know there are other entrepreneurs in Africa which can build amazing technological solutions and mobile technology that are just as good as other parts of the world. This should come as little surprise to outsiders as Ghana itself looks to be booming. Earlier this year, research from MasterCard suggested Accra is the city with the highest growth potential on the continent. The New York Times named Accra as the fourth best place in the world to mix business and pleasure. Whilst IBM has been taking an interest for some while, and this April released: A Vision for Smarter Growth: an IBM Smarter Cities Report on Accra, Ghana which looked at how technology can help solve the city’s problems.
In Ghana there is a saying that Accra is Ghana and Ghana is Africa. Now, between the rise of affordable mobile devices and the zeal of entrepreneurs on the ground like Kane Mani, things might be about to change in this country quite quickly…
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