“Kampala is known as the capital of chaos,” says TMS “Teddy” Ruge, Ugandan entrepreneur, graphic designer and cofounder of Kampala’s first tech incubator, Hive Colab. “But out of that chaos, something rather surprising is emerging.”
Young technologists from the Ugandan capital are taking centre-stage in the pan-African tech scene: Kampalans have won an Apps for Africa contest with a mobile app that measures foetal heart rates. They have established robotics workshops for school students, and set up Python coding lessons for girls.
“Over half our population [in Uganda] is under 15, so the youthful energy we have is incredible,” says Ruge. He attributes the origins of this buzz to the laying of undersea fibre-optic cables in neighbouring Kenya from 2009, which brought the whole region online. “You can now get dongles and 3G even in remote villages, so it’s helped college grads learn coding in their bedrooms,” say Ruge. Maureen Agena, a citizen journalist and a champion of women in tech (main image, previous page), agrees. “Young Kampalans didn’t know they could earn from their passion,” she says. “People are just now appreciating that you can make money by developing apps or applying technology. Entrepreneurship is their only option.”
So what comes next? “Kampala is relatively naïve in its tech awakening — only now is it riding the wave of African urban development,” says Solomon King, founder of robotics startup Fundi Bots. “The raw energy is tangible.”
Coding for girls
Maureen Agena, 28, has been a champion of citizen journalism and is the cofounder of the Ugandan chapter of global women’s technology network Girl Geeks. The group is for women with a background in technology subjects such as computer science, engineering or IT, who have been unable to turn it into a career. Girl Geeks runs weekly coding lessons, TEDx events and a lecture series on jobs in tech.
WinSenga is a low-cost app that analyses foetal heart rates. It was built by physician Davis Musinguzi and programmers Joshua Okello and Aaron Tushabe from Kampala. They were among the winners of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup for 2012, a global student technology competition, and won $50,000 (£33,000).
A pioneer of Africa’s nascent tech community, TMS Ruge helped found the Hive Colab incubator. Ruge, 37, has built a digital platform for engaging African diaspora with Ugandan development issues and been named a Champion of Change by the White House.
The US coding startup for women, Rails Girls, held an event in Uganda in January this year, along with local incubator Outbox, American software company ThoughtWorks and Girl Geeks. Women from different walks of life learned how to make a website using Ruby on Rails. outbox.co.ug
Solomon King, 30, believes robotics can help solve problems in African education. His organisation, Fundi Bots, brings robot kits that contain Arduinos, soldering irons and engineering textbooks to classrooms, providing practical experience and resources that are not typically found in schools.
This article was taken from the September 2013 issue of Wired magazine. Be the first to read Wired’s articles in print before they’re posted online, and get your hands on loads of additional content by subscribing online.