Everyday, African thinkers and innovators are finding new ways to make technology more relevant to our continent. Ashesi alumnus Kobla Nyomi has found another way to do that—through the mobile app store.
Kobla Nyomi is three things: a gamer, a software developer, and a firm believer in the potential of the African mind. Kobla says that for him, Ashesi did not so much change his mindset about the African society, as it did refine it. After four years of Computer Science in Ashesi, he has decided to dedicate his talents to developing Afrocentric applications for one of the world’s fastest growing platforms: the mobile phone.
Kobla’s first mobile application, Oware 3D, is based on a popular Ghanaian game called Oware. Oware is actually from a family of African board games known as the Mancala games, which all have basic count-and-capture rules of play. In the past, these games served as a method of instilling and sharpening arithmetic skills. This, Kobla believes, is what makes Oware so important.
The inspiration for his project came from a much earlier digital rendition of the game that he came across when he was younger. It was the first time he had seen a digital rendition of Oware. “I remember, that even as a child, I was disappointed to learn that not only was the game not created by Africans (it was created by a pair of French brothers), but the interface was also not impressive.” Today, that rendition of the game is the closest to the Ghanaian version that Kobla has ever seen. He finds this unacceptable.
“This game may be played in many parts of the world, but it is indigenously African. If anyone is going to present this game in its best possible form, it is we who must do it. It is our responsibility.”
Before creating Oware 3D, Kobla took a look online at the available digital renditions of the game. Most of the Oware applications, in his opinion, were either too unrealistic in design, too dull in game play, or too dissimilar to the actual Ghanaian board game.
“I felt the need for an authentic, digital version of the game; one that was geared at providing a fun, and convincing experience for the player. Oware 3D is different from its predecessors, in that it uses realistically rendered game graphics, whilst also adhering to the Ghanaian rule of play.”
Kobla has big ambitions for his Oware application. Already, he has procured a license for the game and is working hard to make it available in application stores for mobile platforms – beginning with Android devices. He also intends to add more exciting features to his application, like new game boards and online match capabilities.
“My aim is not to simply produce another digital rendition of this game, but to recreate the entire Oware experience as I know it. If anyone picks up a smart phone or tablet to play Oware 3D, everything must feel right—from the moving hands, to the bouncing pebbles in the game.”
One of Kobla’s biggest challenges so far has been funding for his project. Acquiring licenses has been expensive, especially for a young individual programmer. However, he continues to meet people who support his vision, and have contributed to it in diverse ways. The operational model for Kobla’s future company and, even the music score for his game, were all contributed by friends and colleagues. He is grateful to all of them.
“I am fully aware that making Oware 3D a world-recognized application is a long-term goal. But when it begins to grow and mature, I hope to build more utilitarian mobile software that can help the average Ghanaian in every-day tasks.