Zambia: Interview with BongoHive Co-Founder

BongoHive, a Zambian-based innovation hub has attracted the attention of computer and internet technology enthusiasts throughout the country. Global Voices recently caught up with Simunza Muyangana, one of the four co-founders, who explained how BongoHive provides a place for the local tech community to meet, swap experiences, attend training sessions, network, and participate in hackathon events.

Muyangana explained that BongoHive, which officially launched in May 2011, emerged from weekend sessions in which a group of IT experts volunteered to hold hands-on workshops for a recent group of IT graduates from the Lusaka-based Evelyn Hone College who were completing internships at VVOB Zambia. Encouraged by Erik Hersmann and Juliana Rotich of iHub Nairobi, the workshops was eventually formalized into an innovation hub.

An interesting aspect of this project is the rise and encouragement of the women's network called Asikana, which in one of the local languages means young women who appreciate information and communication technology.


Global Voices (GV): First and foremost, what is BongoHive (BH) and what are its core activities?

Simunza Muyangana (SM): BongoHive is a technology and innovation centre that provides space for technology enthusiasts in Lusaka to meet, swap experience and attend training, networking and geek events like hackathons, bar camps, etc.

GV: Who is involved in it? Do people have to be “geeks” to get involved?

SM: There are a number of people involved in BongoHive. The management team consists of Lukonga Lindunda, Silumesii Maboshe, Bart Cornille, and I with Lukonga involved in the day-to-day management of the centre. He is assisted by Charles Mwanza and George Lupupa who are responsible for managing the centre and community outreach respectively. We also have various other members who spearhead initiatives that BongoHive is involved in like the Asikana Network, the Lusaka Google Developers Group, BarCamp Lusaka, and Mobile Monday Lusaka.

Even though most of the people that come through are either current students or recent graduates who studied Information Technology, BongoHive is an open community centre that welcomes even those that do not necessarily have a specialty in IT. We've been blessed with people who actively contribute to the centre as mentors that you wouldn't ordinarily call geeks.

GV: What demographic of people are involved in BH activities?

SM: I'd posit that most of the people that make use of the centre are between the ages of 20 and 26. Events that are held in the evening or over the weekends attract an older demographic only because that is when they are most likely to have time to come over. Our ladies have very definitely staked a claim in BongoHive by forming their own forum called the “Asikana Network” that uses the centre extensively.

GV: We have seen the release of two interesting apps either coming out of Zambia or dealing with Zambia. One is an app on the draft constitution and the second, an app that aggregates news about Zambia. Was BH involved in making those apps? What other apps have you developed or are in the midst of developing?

SM: Zambia News aggregator is quite handy but BongoHive was not involved in its development.

Gilbert Mwiinga, the developer of the Zambia Draft Constitution app is an active member of the BongoHive community. He conceptualized the idea in 2011 when we ran a workshop on Android App Development with Dale Zak of WhiteSpaces in Canada. Other mobile apps that have come from the community include Fist Drive, a file-sharing application developed by Daryl Lukas. Fist Drive was a semi-finalist in the last Google Apps Competition for the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Bantu Babel is a translation app that was developed by the community during the last Random Hacks of Kindness event for the US Peace Corp volunteers station in Zambia.

Late last year we ran a Pitch Night under the Mobile Monday Lusaka umbrella. It was encouraging to realize that there are a lot more mobile and web applications currently in development by individuals who use the Hive. However, I think most of them would prefer to have their apps announced after they have been launched. Look out for a lot more Zambian apps in 2013. Our Google Developers Group is currently running another course on Android App Development.

GV: What is your opinion of the Zambian government's actions against the website Zambian Watchdog? Do you think this type of crackdown could spread to others citizen news websites if it succeeds in shutting it down?

SM: Most, if not all, software development is about helping people access information. Some would even say that software development in itself is a form of self expression.  We support the right to freedom of expression. We also encourage responsibility in its use. I personally believe that people who feel that their right to dignity may have been violated should be allowed to address their concerns or seek some form of justifiable recourse.

GV: Recently ZICTA (Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority) embarked on SIM card registration for “security” reasons. Is that not threat to digital freedom?

It really depends on who holds that information and who will have access to it, doesn't it? ZICTA is supposed to be an independent agency. I have no problem with my service provider or the bank authority attaching my name to my number for transactional purposes. I cannot see why anybody else would need it. If it is required for purposes of criminal investigation, I'd prefer they first sought a court order allowing them to talk to my service provider.


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