Finally, proper maps and addresses for Africans?

Two startups looking to solve location issues across the continent

The saying goes: “Africa doesn’t have formal a address system”. And it’s true. Even with the great technological advancement in the recent times, countries like Kenya still do not have a system where residents have a fixed address.

This problem is not only found in Africa but in many developing regions across the globe. But it presents a unique opportunity for developers on the continent. According to a Kenyan based mapping startup, OkHI, over four billion people do not have an address.

Now OkHI aims to give every user a virtual address they can share with service providers such as taxi and e-commerce deliveries. The technology combines mapping location with a photo of the entrance of the residence. Although the startup has not released the software publicly, it is already in its testing phase with e-commerce players and taxi hailing company, Uber in Nairobi.

Many organisations, like Sendy, a Kenyan startup that offers on demand delivery service using motorbike riders (boda boda) also face the challenge of tracking the location of pickups and deliveries. And so, it is with this in mind that Nana Kwame Nyantakyi came up, Ananse Companion, an application to make sharing of locations much easier and more accurate.

“Getting around our side of the continent is very tedious. Existing map directions given are not up-to-date,” Kwame tells IDG Connect. “We are in a developing country where roads are being created and some re-purposed every single day – what is a road today might not be by the next day. Existing apps do not take into account such important details and are also very difficult to comprehend.”

“What do we do when we are going somewhere we don't know? We ask our family and friends. That is what we have been doing since we were old enough to go places,” he adds.

“Humans are mostly creatures of sight, the more we see the more we believe and understand. Ananse Companion gives you a drawing of where you are and where you are going and makes following directions from your friends easier to follow and share.”

This makes life easier for those living in places where directions are hard to get. You either get not so accurate details or you have to spend many hours calling people.

Using the application is quite easy. Once a user downloads it, he can map out a route and input other important customised alerts such as where to board public transport. The application then alerts the person who has been sent the direction as to where they should board public transport and alight. The directions can be sent to other users.

“These directions created can be saved for later reference and shared to others via a link, in app message or QR code where people can scan to get the directions you created,” Kwame says. Users can also create customised alerts for their places of interest and using the GPS option they could be notified when they near such places.

Kwame began working on this product in 2013 as part of his university course and in March 2015 he decided to refine it and launch it in the Google Play store. It currently has a paltry 150 users but could be poised to solve one of those annoying problems in Africa.

It is easy to see how this application can not only help users get around, but also help to map out the nitty gritty places that Google maps has not gotten right.