From Tunis in the north to Cape Town in the south, Dakar in the west to Port Louis in the east, hubs, labs and hackerspaces are leading the way for co-creation and social change all across Africa*. With each group and space responding to the specific needs and context of its community, we’re starting a new series to find out what distinguishes, and unites, the members of Africa’s tech hub community. In this issue, we interview Silumesii Maboshe, co-founder of BongoHive, in Lusaka, Zambia.
by Alicia Mitchell
First question: what was the motivation behind the foundation of BongoHive?
SM: The four co-founders of BongoHive are Lukonga Lindunda, Simunza Muyangana, Bart Cornille and myself. We didn’t set out to create a hub. What we recognised was that, in Zambia, graduates were coming out of college and university with technical information that was lacking or irrelevant. Additionally, graduates did not have the self-confidence that it takes to do tech as a career.
We started by mentoring a group of 15 or so graduates. Over several months, we introduced them to software development, web programming, source code control, databases, the command line and so on. We did this using mostly Open Source tools and software. Self-confidence is harder to deal with. Our approach was to create a space where people’s opinions mattered and sharing was encouraged. Slowly, our group started to try things, fail, try again, succeed and take bigger risks.
During this time, Lukonga got to visit iHub in Nairobi, Kenya, and we decided that their “hub” setup would be good to customise for Lusaka. The iHub team have been like an older sibling to BongoHive.
The name “BongoHive” came out of a brainstorming session with the group we were mentoring. The name came from Charles Mwanza who is now our Hub Manager. It comes from the Chibemba word “ubongobongo” which means “brain” and the English word, “hive”. We think of BongoHive as a place where brains come together to make sweet stuff!
Software developers and creatives in Lusaka were creating great things in isolation and scattered across the capital. We felt that if we could create an environment where they could come and work with each other, we’d all get a lot further. Two things became very important to make this happen. Firstly, we needed a physical space. Secondly, we needed an Internet connection. With those in place our vision to build a thriving community started to become real.
What kinds of opportunities for learning and training does BongoHive offer?
SM: Practically, people can come to BongoHive today to learn programming languages, develop websites, create mobile applications, design games and even program hardware. We want to serve the community well so BongoHive is also a place to network with industry. Business individuals have been generous enough to offer mentorship to BongoHive members who want to turn their ideas in to businesses. Additionally, businesses have started to recruit members who have improved their skills at BongoHive. We are particularly proud of iConnect who provide our Internet. They were the first local company to “get it” and engage with us across our spectrum of offerings.
BongoHive is also a place to meet people. Developing with technology is better as a “team sport” and at BongoHive we have some of the most brilliant minds in the city willing to engage others with crazy ideas. The community is what we are the most proud of and I think the greatest opportunity we have to offer.
Can you describe an average day in the life of BongoHive?
SM: I wonder if there is an “average day” at BongoHive! It really depends on what you want to give and get out of your time here. For me, I work quite a bit with George Mutale our Community Manager to schedule and organise our Meet the Industry and Insaka events. We use these two events to invite experts to come to BongoHive and tell us about industry or share significant life and business experience.
Additionally, I help out the Hacker’s Guild at BongoHive which is the group formed to tackle teaching technology to people who come to BongoHive.
Every day is different!
What makes Lusaka a special place for innovators and entrepreneurs?
SM: Lusaka is not the only place that innovation and entrepreneurship is happening in Zambia. It so happens that all the co-founders were living here at the same time.
That said, Lusaka is growing… fast! I think the city is setting itself up to be a business hub for Central and Southern Africa. Many local and international companies who set up in Zambia choose to have their headquarters here. Additionally, Embassies and High Commissions set up their offices in Lusaka. Importantly, there are several schools, colleges and universities in Zambia’s capital city. This means that local and international men and women learn, live, work, meet and build lives together here. I think that naturally lends a special flavour to the kind of innovation and entrepreneurship that can happen in Lusaka.
What does the future hold for BongoHive and its users?
SM: I think the future holds in it what we focus on building. We want BongoHive to be a place where technology co-founders meet and start businesses that drastically improve their own lives and positively impact the community. Also, we’d like to build partnerships that improve the technology and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Lusaka. Lastly, BongoHive will be a place where one can continue to meet interesting people and learn. That’s going to take truckloads of wisdom, insight, inspiration, focus and hard work. We welcome people who’d like to engage with us to make that future come to pass.
Thanks for your time, Silumesii, and best of luck for the future of BongoHive!
*Check out the Hubs in Africa crowd-sourced map for a comprehensive overview.