Monday, October 10, 2011

Soaring high with ‘Msema Kweli’

Mr Osiemo: His firm, Semasoft Ltd, employs at least four people and has earned over Sh600,000 in profit so far. William Oeri  | Nation

Mr Osiemo: His firm, Semasoft Ltd, employs at least four people and has earned over Sh600,000 in profit so far. William Oeri | Nation 

By Charles Wokabi cwokabi@gmail.com

At only 21 years, Mr Omani Isaac Osiemo runs his own company and will be representing Kenya at a global IT event next year.

The second-year Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) student is part of a new breed of Kenyan youth who have taken to software development.

At JKUAT he is pursuing a degree in Bachelor of Science, Information and Technology. It was not always his career choice.

“I wanted to take up a career in aviation, specifically flying planes,” he says.

He changed his mind when he discovered he could fly high by pursuing a different career. As he has discovered now, IT will let him fly around the world.

When not in class, Mr Osiemo runs Semasoft Limited, a software development and Web solutions company.

The Kisii High School graduate is the brains behind Msema Kweli software, developed to help Kenyans monitor Constituency Development Fund (CDF) projects.

With an Android handset, you can easily download the application software and access full details of CDF projects in your area — from financial allocation to implementation.

“You can also post comments, complaints and recommendations on the projects. It is a platform for Kenyans to air their views on how their money is being used,” Mr Osiemo says.

“For instance, if a big number of people speak negatively about a project, that may be reason for further assessment,” he says.

The application won the first position in the Appcircus competition (featuring students with the best mobile applications) held at Nairobi’s iHub last month.

That opened the doors for nomination to attend the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona in February.

Mr Osiemo believes Kenyans can rise as high as people in the West in technology innovation.

“If 16-year-olds in America and Europe can make softwares that are used across continents, Kenyans too can,” he says.

He adds that you can only be as backward as you let yourself to be. With modern technology, he notes, you can access classified information even from your mobile phone.

Mr Osiemo wakes up at five o’clock every morning to study. Sometimes he sleeps for less than three hours a day as he has to cater for his customers’ needs and his school work.

“I have to balance my work, projects and school,” he says.

For technologists, reading widely is important as it helps them analyse problems facing society and employ their knowledge to provide solutions.

For example, Msema Kweli was designed to solve the problem of financial unaccountability, especially on CDF allocations.

“I received some complaints on functionalities of the software and re-called it for rectification, then released it back to society,” he says.

Mr Osiemo has now changed from regular classes, which run during the day, to part-time classes in the evening.

During the day, he meets clients, runs his company and attends a six-week Nokia scholarship, thanks to his Msema Kweli victory at Appcircus.

Incorporated just two months ago, Semasoft Limited contracts at least four people and has earned over Sh600,000 in profit so far. The firm operates from Nailab offices on Ngong Road, a business incubation firm.

Mr Osiemo believes that Kenya has a lot to offer, especially in mobile phone technology.

“We have enough resources to raise our own Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Steve Job (Apple),” he says.

But the biggest problem here is over reliance on foreign solutions, he notes, adding: “The notion that foreign things are better than locally developed ones affects virtually all industries.”

“I once qualified for an application development job with a Black American entrepreneur, but when we set up a Skype call and he discovered I am African, he said he does not work with Africans.”

Mr Osiemo says Kenyans and other Africans should appreciate and nurture their own talent

“The government should help in developing young talent in Kenya to maturity.” he says.

Besides Msema Kweli, Mr Osiemo has also made the iRelief software to ease in distribution of food aid during disasters, and the Kamata Cup application, which won the Garage 48 competition. The application helps travellers locate the nearest taxi to their location.

Mr Osiemo hopes to bring up his company to become a top problem solver in technology.

He says he is not worried about people who steal his ideas and softwares.

“If someone steals from you, it just means you to work a lot harder and develop even greater ideas and softwares,” he says.