Traditionally, when we think of technology in Kenya, we think about enabling access to resources, services and information — financial inclusion, healthcare (e-health) and e-government. Besides enabling access and facilitating consumption, technology can empower our youth to produce content, creating jobs in the process. That is crucial, if Africa is to reap its demographic dividend.
By 2050, Africa will contribute more than half of the world’s population growth of 2.2 billion people. Many of them will be of working age, with a crucial number having grown up in an urban setting with access to affordable bandwidth; fuelling the demand for more Afrocentric content. At this year's Nairobi Comic Convention (NAICCON) on Saturday, August 24, 2019, I saw first-hand how African artists can tap animation and video games as an emerging art form to reach this demographic.
According to Internet World Stats, as of June 30, 2019, Africa’s internet penetration stood at 39.8 percent. Africa’s internet growth over the last 19 years was 129x the rest of the word’s 88.4 percent growth rate. The switch from satellite to submarine cable over the last twenty years, drastically reduced internet costs, fuelling this growth.
Africa has 38 countries that have seashore and 16 that are land locked. Out of these 38 countries that have seashore, 37 countries now have at least one submarine cable landing. The lone exception is Eritrea, Western Sahara is considered disputed territory. Africa’s rapidly urbanising populations have seen the most benefit.
According to Our World in Data, the urban population of Kenya and Nigeria has more than tripled in the last 50 years, Mali’s has quadrupled. Telecommunications, cable and internet service providers are utilising the benefits of urbanisation including high density of economic activity, utilisation of human capital, and shared infrastructure to connect retail customers.
Lower bandwidth costs and more affordable smart phones mean that young African consumers are looking for content to entertain themselves and news that affects their daily lives. They are downloading photo and video shooting and editing apps like Adobe Spark Post, 8mm, FiLMic Pro, Halide, Hyperlapse, LumaFusion, Mojo, Nikon SnapBridge, Photo Director, Pixaloop, ProCam, and ZY Play, to produce their own content to share on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp. However, in order to reduce the distressingly high levels of youth employment across the continent, our youth need to learn the skills to code and produce software and other applications that will generate new content.
At NAICCON, Donald Kiplagat, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Information Technology, at Strathmore University and Abdulfatah Mohamed, a software developer at Softsearch, demonstrated Lekura (game in Kinyarwanda), a platform they developed for African game designers to interact with each other and to promote their games.
So far, Sneak, a game they also designed is the only one by an African game designer on Lekura. The rest are popular games from North America. It demonstrates that there is still a huge gap in online content from Africa.
Samuel Muiruri another game designer, and Paul-Lucas Lambert, whose full-time job is CEO of Decomagna Ltd (Unilin Kenya), also demonstrated their facial animation programme. Instead of manually designing the facial expressions of your game character, you can use their programme to track your own facial expressions and then transpose them onto your game character.
It makes the process more efficient and it’s fun. They are working to launch what could be Kenya's first game development studio, Supreme Potatoe. Paul-Lucas is looking to partner with Moringa School to offer computer-generated imagery, design and game development courses.
Both Donald and Paul-Lucas are alumni of Moringa School’s software development course. The course gave them the confidence to embark on game development. NAICONN provided a great opportunity for Samuel and Paul-Lucas to raise awareness about their game development studio, gauge market interest and look for potential collaborators; artists, designers and programmers.
Yes, Africa needs more engineers to build our roads and railways and to set up and run our manufacturing sector, but we also need more African artists and writers to document and tell our story. Parents have role to play in supporting their children’s’ interests in activities like gaming, animation and photography and educationists need to develop the technical courses.
It’s time Africa moved on from thinking it’s okay to consume pirated Hollywood, Bollywood and even Nollywood content, to developing our own. We will respect other’s intellectual property rights, if we have skin in the game; that means producing enough of our own content. Piracy of locally developed African content dents the profits of African businesses that employ African techies.
The writer is Kavangi Outreach Associate, Moringa School.