Interview With Coders4Africa Founders
We recently hightlighted the efforts of Coders4Africa, an NGO aiming at improving the cardre of software developers in Africa. We managed to interview co-founders, Kwame Andah, Amadou Daffe and AlMoustapha Cisse:
1. Tell us a bit about Coders4Africa (C4A)
Kwame Andah (Co-Founder): Coders4Africa was created in 2010 through the efforts of five friends who collectively have over 40 years of experience in the software engineering and development field. We are a not-for-profit organization with an initiative that focuses on providing professional training and certification on a variety of platforms to 1,000 African software and application developers by the year 2016. After years of interaction with technologist in Africa we decided to focus on software development as a way of giving back to the communities we originated from. Being born and raised in Africa although educated in the United States, gave us an advantage in regards to bridging the gap between Africans and the diaspora.
2. What drove to your starting C4A?
Amadou Daffe (Co-Founder): During the past few years, there has obviously been a very strong momentum in the ICT field all over Africa. Stories of success are being told in Kenya, South Africa, Ghana etc.
But let’s be frank, in reality most of the ICT initiatives target Africans as consumers and experimental guinea pigs. Let us take the mobile phone phenomenon for example. Even though the continent is benefiting from all of the technology that comes with mobile phones and the Internet, very few of us create something out of it. My partners and I wanted to present Africans a different perspective; participating in the African ICT revolution as programmers, developers and engineers. Not simply as consumers and super users
3. What do you seek to achieve through C4A? What current activities are you carrying out to achieve your goals?
Kwame Andah: One of our main goals is to create a strong community of software developers that share and transfer knowledge among themselves and to future generation of African programmers. We foresee Coders4Africa being one of the authoritative sources that produces and showcases African software developers who aspire to compete in the global market. It is our hope that the masses will all be inspired to be leaders in this field thereby contributing to the growth of ICT in their local regions. Without this effort, the digital divide will widen. The focus is on Africa and we seek to be agents of innovation while spreading the development of software/application creation in the continent.
To carry out our goals, we successfully conducted conferences and hands-on workshops in Dakar, Senegal and Bamako, Mali. Over 400 hundred attendees participated in these conferences in December 2010. We are currently planning for our next event in Accra, Ghana this summer 2011. We are also interacting with online communities through the following:
4. Afrinnovator is currently running a survey of African programmers, what do you think of the current state of software programming in Africa?
Amadou Daffe: This question is actually similar to another one we were trying to answer during our first conference in Senegal and Mali. It is a difficult one. At the moment two countries are dominating the Software development industry in sub-Saharan Africa: South Africa and Kenya. I believe there is a tremendous data in South Africa that can help us answer that question. However at the continental level we have a long way to go. Most African governments and private companies are still buying Software made by non-Africans. This indicates that there is mistrust, or a deficiency in the promotion of African made Software across the continent. If I am a Senegalese private company I should be able to buy software made by Kenyan or Ghanaian Software Company. It will probably be cheaper and I could possibly get support locally.
Did you know that there is an African Association of Software Users (AAUL)? That there have been African meetings for Open Source Software? There was one in Burkina Fasso few years back.
I think for African software programming to strive we need to create an African Association of Software Developers (AASD) and have conferences held in different African countries periodically in order to make African software developers and engineers more visible and known throughout the continent. Let’s not forget that Africa is potentially a great market, it is the second largest continent in terms of population.
5. Generally speaking, how would you rate the calibre of programmers in Africa? how competitive are we?
Amadou Daffe: You are asking us to define the “Profile of the African Programmer”. We talked about that extensively during our conferences in Dakar and Bamako. And my take on this is that we have a lot of work ahead us.
Some African programmers will argue that they don’t have the same tools as their European, Indian and American counterparts.
One other important fact is that there are two main groups of African programmers: French and English speaking ones. I will definitely agree that the English speaking African programmers have an edge over their French speaking counterparts. This is due to the fact that most programming materials are written or given in English. One of the Coders4Africa leaders in Senegal actually told us that he is still using a C# (a Microsoft .NET Language) that is 5th edition behind. He told us that it is very hard to keep up because of the lack of materials produced in French.
You also have the difficulties of getting online with slow or no Internet, lack of adequate electric grid etc.
With all these barriers it is hard and really not fair to grade African programmers. However, in general, I will give them a solid C and improving (smile).
In term of competition they are behind but with a boost they could be part of the greatest programmers in the world such as Phillip Emeagwali a Nigerian and pioneer in the computer engineering field (http://emeagwali.com/). There are guys out there that do crazy things but they are not visible.
Coders4Africa is looking forward to remedying these problems. Then they will be no more excuses (smile).
6. What future do you see for programming and programmers in Africa?
Kwame Andah: We see a very bright future for programmers and open source programming. Africa has some of the most talented individuals on the planet. Hopefully we will spend less capital purchasing proprietary software and invest in training more programmers from Africa. This will make us less dependent on outside software developers while creating a free/open market and increasing competition. More importantly, this will boost moral in our communities while giving programmers a sense of pride. Open source programming provides a way for us to help ourselves and collaborate with our brothers and sisters within the continent. Our ability to customize software into local languages will be improved and ultimately, programmers and open source programming will stimulate the private and public sectors in the mobile, tablet and touch screen multimedia software industries.
7. What’s the future for C4A?
AlMoustapha Cisse (Co-Founder): Our first objective is to help train and certify at least 1000 programmers by 2016. Thereafter, we envision Coders4Africa having a broader base in Africa and becoming the enabler of technical learning throughout the continent. We are also leveraging social media to create communities of programmers hoping to foster knowledge sharing and transfering across Africa in the future. Lastly, Coders4Africa is hoping to become the powerhouse guiding the African developers towards their own betterment in promoting creativity and innovation while providing a lending hand in becoming the brainpower for the future IT global-outsourcing.