As the Fourth Industrial Revolution sweeps across Africa and more of its youth develop coding and other digital skills, time may have come to revise the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” and update it to “It takes one child to raise the prospects of a village.”
Based on the quest of one young man from a village in Ghana to solve some of the major problems faced by his community, the updated saying could become commonplace as more young innovators enter the fray.
Inspired by global technology success stories, Mustapha Diyaol Haqq, a 19-year-old from Kumasi in Southern Ghana, realised he too could deliver innovation where it was most needed, starting with his very home town.
“Seeing how the big tech companies used innovation to solve some of the world’s biggest problems made me realise how important it is to learn to code,” says Haqq. “I looked online for any free courses that could help me develop coding skills and completed as many as I could.”
Despite being self-taught, Haqq was able to develop a potentially life-saving solution for women across the continent. “I used my knowledge of coding and machine learning to develop a model for diagnosing breast cancer, which I hope to release freely to communities across Africa,” says Haqq.
Also on his agenda are hunger and food security which he sees as two of the biggest challenges faced by the continent’s rapidly growing population. “Africa relies heavily on smallholder farmers to meet its food production needs. However, much of the produce from farms are spoilt before it reaches the markets in the cities.” he says.
The 19 year old adds, “I’m currently working on a machine learning and AI model that can help reduce post-harvest losses and ensure the work our farmers do translate into food security for our communities.”
Connectivity challenges remain limiting
One of Haqq’s biggest challenges when learning to code was access to the internet. “We don’t have a good internet connection where we live, so I had to walk kilometres to an internet café where I could access free online coding courses.”
In his hometown, internet access is expensive but Haqq strived thanks to the generous support of his parents who made some sacrifices to give him a chance to complete the online courses.
“I built sufficient coding skills to start developing solutions to some of the problems affecting our community.”
Ghana suffers from poor internet penetration, with only 14% of the population having access to the internet. Despite this, the Ghanaian government has set out a plan to position the country as a leader in ICT innovation in the sub-Saharan Africa region by 2023. Young innovators such as Haqq will undoubtedly play a crucial role in achieving the government’s ambitions and inspiring more youth to pursue careers in tech.
Haqq says internet access is also the single biggest obstacle to greater adoption of coding among African youth. “Our continent does not enjoy the fixed-line infrastructure of our more developed peers, and mobile internet can be expensive. For me to afford the internet cafes where I learned to code, my parents had to make sacrifices.”
The 19 year old adds, “Global companies can play an invaluable support role by investing in providing internet access to our communities to support us as we get ready for a digital future.”
Lighting a coding fire among Africa’s youth as Youth Ambassador for Africa Code Week 2019
One of the initiatives working to address digital literacy in Ghana is SAP’s Africa Code Week (ACW), an annual, continent-wide digital literacy programme that has engaged over 4.1 million youth in 37 African countries since 2015.
“I participated in Africa Code Week as an opportunity to share my knowledge with young people in my community and inspire more youngsters to learn one of the most important languages of our time: coding,” says Haqq.
The young Ghanaian is also the ambassador for the ACW, an opportunity which Haqq says will give him a platform to inspire change on a global platform and encourage young talents across the continent.
The 2019 ACW is set for October and targets 1.5 million youth in 37 countries. It is an initiative of tech firm SAP Africa together with over 130 partners including UNESCO, Google, Camden Education Trust, Cape Town Science Center and Youth Mobile.
This article is distributed by the African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of SAP Africa.