Two Zambian tech enthusiasts, Lukonga Lindunda and Bart Cornille, have created an ecosystem for techies and developers in Lusaka, where technology solutions specific to Zambia are developed and nurtured to ensure sustainability.
Founded in May 2011 by Cornille and Lindunda, BongoHive – “Lusaka’s Technology and Innovation Hub,” – has grown from a handful of people to just under 260 members, ranging from mobile and software developers to those passionate about technology and innovation in Zambia.
Those well-positioned to comment on the potential of BongoHive to encourage innovation in Zambia believe that the only way is up for the technological hub. Chabala Kaunda, Country Manager for Samsung Electronics in Zambia, commended the passion for technology expressed by the BongoHive team but lamented the fact that required mentoring and funding to take the vision to the next level was lacking.
“Although currently, as Samsung, we are only involved with the University with the Mobile Innovation Lab. I believe the work being done by BongoHive is notable in that they are looking to develop tech solutions specific to Zambia.”
This lack of funding, and a general lack of faith in the project, is something that the BongoHive team have had to deal with from the outset.
“At first very few people took us seriously,” says Lindunda. “We had to start small with a group of people who believed in us. I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya in the beginning looking for sponsorship, funding or any assistance whatsoever. We managed to get a lot of moral support from Erik Hersman (of Ushahidi) and the iHub community but no funding.”
Things changing for the better
The situation has improved over the last year. BongoHive has received funding of approximately US$50,000 in total from The Flemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance (VVOB), Brenda Davies and Indigo Trust, which has been invested in computer hardware, training and internet connection.
In addition, the Zambian Education Ministry has offered them some office space, which they now operate and host their events from.
They have also had Juliana Rotich, Executive Director at Kenya’s Ushahidi, run a mentoring session at their premises and have consequently developed a digital mapping of African Tech and Innovation Hubs and Hackerspaces on Ushahidi’s Crowdmap platform.
Counting on networks
This initiative, Hubs in Africa, is a useful tool in organising information about all the tech hubs in Africa through crowdsourcing. Another similar initiative by BongoHive is the digital mapping of women’s technology organisations in Africa – Women’s Tech Organisations in Africa.
Since the mentoring session with Rotich, they have hosted more events including a Ushahidi Developer Meetup in September 2011, Google Technical User Group, a Mobile Application Training session by the experienced Dale Zak from Whitespace and a Joomla Clinic with Andy Gaskell. These events have earned BongoHive the tag of technology pioneers in Zambia.
Successful innovations have also been developed at the hub. One of BongoHive’s members, Gilbert Mwiinga, has gone on to develop the Android Zambian Draft Constitution App, which aims to inform citizens of the country’s laws. A key feature of the app — among many others — is that it allows users to send comments to the Constitution Review Commission of Zambia, thus providing the government with direct feedback from the citizens for the constitution review process.
Mwiinga also earned himself an internship with Whitespace, a nonprofit organisation that aims to use technology to help empower disadvantaged groups.
Despite its humble beginnings and numerous hurdles to jump, BongoHive continues to move forward in leaps and bounds. On September 13, 2012, Google announced the list of apps that have made it to the Semi-Final round of its Google Apps Developer Challenge 2012. Among them is Fist Drive, an app developed by Daryl Lukas at BongoHive.
“Fist Drive is a mobile, cloud file sharing application for Google Drive,” says Lukas. “Lots of users keep important documents in the cloud, and they, from time to time, need to share some of those files with their peers.”
“What Fist Drive does is make file sharing process cooler, faster and simpler, allowing users to share files while in the moment. It marries the awesome matching technology of Bump with Google Drive’s cloud services.”
Lindunda is excited by Fist Drive’s success.
“I think it’s the first time any Zambian app has made it that far in a competition. This is a result of a number of meetups where we sensitised developers on the need to participate in competitions,” Lindunda said.
On the question of whether a world-dominant African Tech company could soon be realised, Lindunda is adamant.
“Indeed man. It will happen!”