In promoting emerging technologies and innovations during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, a Kenyan based company has developed Africa’s first video conferencing application designed to be more affordable than other foreign brands.

The app known as Gumzo, which means “chatting” in Swahili, is free to join and costs only $1 per week for users who want to host meetings. The app was created by Usiku Games, a Nairobi company that until a few months ago, focused on making video games for the African market.

Jay Shapiro, Usiku’s CEO, said Gumzo said the app took eight weeks to build and works for the wide variety of devices used across Africa. The Gumzo app can accommodate an unlimited number of students, and have servers in South Africa and Kenya.

According to Usiku, “Africa is a mobile phone first continent and so you have to have a platform that works on all mobile devices that are older or have less memory. That’s why we built a download app that is web-based and is accessible on all smart phones or PC or tablets to try and reach as many people as we can.”

In the wake of COVID-19, the Kenyan government closed all learning institutions in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus. This has kept 17 million students out of schools since.

Teachers have used a variety of conferencing apps, including Zoom, Skype and Whatsapp, to keep in touch with students but with the Gumzo app, teachers can have an unlimited number of students in meetings and still have clarity

A teacher at Upper Hill High School in Nairobi who goes by Gilbert Walusimbi, is one of the users of Gumzo  said he gets an average of forty-five students in his video conferencing class.

However, the digital divide in Africa could pose a challenge in the uptake of emerging innovations and technologies.

Vincent Omondi, an information technology expert at Makini School in Nairobi, points out that “The latest statistics conducted in 2019 by the International Telecommunications Union, claims that only 29 percent of the population in Africa had access to the internet”.

“After internet access there’s now the issue of devices, the appropriate devices to use to access video conference software that would also play a big challenge,” said Omondi.

The lack of wider adoption of infrastructure sharing, internet illiteracy, and legislative barriers are the most pertinent causes of Africa’s connectivity gap.

Although the digital divide in Africa is still quite large, Gumzo could help make it smaller if some of the dominant barriers in Africa are tackled.

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