The Black Bill

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THE BLACK BILL - Herman Chinery-HesseBorn Herman Chinery-Hesse, the “black Bill” is of Ghanaian descent and is “repped” as the African “father of technology.” Born in Ireland, he studied in America and worked in Britain. However, when he decided to build a software company, he decided that it would be in Africa.

At a recent interview, Chinery-Hesse stated, “I didn’t have an option in America. I was a black African there, and until Obama, we didn’t have a track record of leadership. It would be an uphill battle, whereas in Ghana the sky was the limit. Also I’m African: we need development here and it’s Africans who are going to develop Africa. I felt a sense of responsibility; apart from the fact that I thought I’d have a brighter future here.”

When he relocated to Ghana in 1990, Chinery-Hesse had no money but he owned a computer. He began writing programs and selling them, and eventually moved from a bedroom to a garage and then an office.  He founded SOFTtribe, the country’s leading software developer in 1991. It provides management systems to dozens of companies, including Guinness and Unilever, and products to thousands of consumers.

Akatua was one of the first software programs to be developed by SOFTtribe some two decades ago, and the product, which has been taken on by many major companies operating in Ghana, claims to be the most efficient, payroll solution in the country. It is designed to simplify a series of complex payroll issues such as staff salaries, and maintenance of taxes as well as managing deductions and back pay.

In recent times, Chinery-Hesse who is often described as ‘”Africa’s Bill Gates,” embarked on a mission to spark an entrepreneurial revolution in Africa by bringing e-commerce to the most remote corners of the continent. His latest creations range from virtual shopping malls and electronic ticketing to digital insurance and security.

A subsidiary of Black Star Line, the company Chinery-Hesse create in 2007, Shop Africa 53 is a virtual shopping mall for African products and services that enables merchants to sell their goods on the internet and accept payments on a mobile phone. The website, which Chinery-Hesse describes as an African Amazon/PayPal type of service, allows shoppers anywhere in the world to look for African products and buy directly from local merchants.

The re-usable plastic card, Keba-Ekong whose name translates to “bring it again,” is similar to the Oyster card, a form of electronic ticketing widely used in London, England for public transport. Keba-Ekong is also an all-purpose, pay-as-you-go system that is used for several other purchases, including concert and cinema tickets, inside and outside Ghana.

For “Quickie,” Black Star Line collaborated with an insurance company to launch instant, on-demand cover through the use of scratch cards and mobile phone networks. The product is designed to accommodate the needs of those who are not keen to pay large sums for insurance once a year.

Hei-Julor!!!- is one of his most popular programs that allows a user whose house is being attacked to text their GPS co-ordinates to police, neighbours and local radio. Then a protection system mechanism is deployed to make sure the thief is caught.

Accolades well deserved I say, and Herman Chinery-Hesse is far from finished. “I’m optimistic about the future,” he stated in his interview. “We haven’t turned the corner yet but we’re rapidly approaching it. In terms of the poverty and being disconnected, it’s not because people are stupid or not creative, they just didn’t have a chance, they weren’t at the table. Now they have mobiles, some have internet and suddenly people are getting educated online, trading online, and this is the future.”

Are you interested in designing or developing software applications? The world is your oyster. Do let us know what your challenges are and how we may be of assistance.

Credits: CNN.com, www.guardian.co.uk

© 2012 – 2017, Jennifer Nkem-Eneanya. All rights reserved.

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