Nairobi Hackathon

After the barcamp got us all excited, hackathon day was also one of those really good ones! We feel like a network for continuous exchange is really evolving. People brought their own projects to the table, and it was a super diverse range of topics, which still all fell under the broader theme Hack & Design Together. And so we did just that. Here’s a little something on the projects.

Doze Poa :)

All groups seemed to be having a good time, but most giggles came from team “Doze poa” – a phrasebook app with which you learn to speak Swahili like a local. “Doze poa” means “Sleep well” which we so far had always translated as “Lala salama”, until we were now told that that is actually boring schoolbook Swahili. We still love the sound. Lala salama – could it mean anything else than “sleep well”?

Before the coding of “Doze Poa” began, there was thus quite some debate on content. What exactly is the difference between “Mambo” and “Sasa”, etc? They are both colloquial and much more commonly used versions of the schoolbook Swahili greeting phrase “Hujambo”. But when to use which? It seems totally clear to the Swahili-speakers, but it is quite hard to get across to us, who don’t even hear the difference between “Ndiaje” (Hello) and “Ndiache” (Leave me alone). So here is the difference: You say “sasa” in passing, and “mambo” to actually start a conversation about how the other one is doing. Which makes “sasa” quite the revolutionary term, the linguist in me thinks, and the Swahili speakers agree.

Most important: Pick-up lines! You say “Mambo m-super” (“Hey there, gorgeous!”) when you try to pick up a girl, but never when trying to pick up a man! Men are “m-handsome” – funny how they’re not (to be called) super in Kenya, much like they’re not (to be called) sweet or cute in Germany, isn’t it?

Really cool app! Despite or because of the fun they had, team “Doze Poa” got the app built and running on FirefoxOS, including the Geeksphone Keons we have with us, till the evening – check out the app here and it’s progress in GitHub here. Please feel free to contribute! We hope that we and our Kenyan hacker friends will continue working on it, maybe together with some Ugandans, Rwandans or Tanzanians!

Arduino / Raspberry Pi

In addition to software hacks, one group tinkered with a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino-board – the outcome being a rangefinder, which the makers Michael, Charles and Harriet suggest should be used by drivers in Nairobi to keep a distance from each other.


MatatuChat / MatatuViz

Drivers that could definitely do with a rangefinder are the Matatu drivers in Nairobi, as the Europeans are to learn during the day. Zab proposed the group build a crowdsourcing service quality ratings of the Matatus – the local buses - basically a chat in which people can rate Matatus and report incidents of reckless driving, sexist drivers, or other dangers and annoyances.

Before the actual coding starts, there is some need for discussion in this group as well: Which problems do occur, which routes are the worst, who has which experiences, and how can the problems actually be tackled? Instead of organizing a round table with government, union and citizens, the group starts searching the web for similar apps – and actually find two that do pretty much exactly what MatatuChat had aspired to do: Nduru App and Ma3Route. After some more research, it turned out that the developers of both are located in the same building as iHub, and when invited to contribute to the session, they actually agreed and joined in. Serendipity rocks!

After that, the aim of the group somewhat changed, as now data was less of an issue than visualization. By the end of the hackathon, Nduru App and MatatuViz had agreed to collaborate to visualize the existing data in a better way and keep on making both better.

URL shortener

Phil, Neville and Beverlyn hack a URL shortener written in PHP with a JavaScript frontend, not just as a tool, but also for brand recognition. They are a very focused group, and only after the Hackathon does Phil ask us to check out the Ugandan hacker scene for him, so he can decide whether he may want to go and work there for a while. This is exactly what we had hoped for! Yay!


Another really great and more seriously needed app that got worked on was PingApp. After the Westgate siege, the Ushahidi team had gotten together to talk about what this meant to them and what they could contribute to make the situation better. Ping is a binary, multichannel check-in tool for groups. It’s an easy way for small groups, families and companies to quickly check in with each other. The basic idea is probably best described by this great #AHT13 Nairobi Hackathon Design: PingApp


You can also find PingApp on GitHub - it’s all open-source, please feel free to work on it! We are happy that we could contribute to making terrible situations a little easier for people. Also, it was really great to see a Designer from Nigeria working on this project next to a Frontend Developer from Switzerland next to a Designer from Poland next to a Developer from Britain who currently lives in Kenya!

Here are @udezekene @gr2m @bytebandit and Alex hacking on the new Ping app for group checkins for emergencies #AHT13

— Erik Hersman (@whiteafrican) September 27, 2013



Later that night, the first meeting of the Nairobi.js usergroup is held – Thanks for taking ownership of that, Vicky!


We have gotten really helpful and mostly positive feedback from the attendees – Thanks again to them! We will properly evaluate and publish it at a later date – we’re kind of busy at the moment, so please bear with us. Right now, we would like to highlight just a few points: Nairobi hackers wants more barcamps and hackathons, and they are prepared to organize them. And we have made lots of connections which will turn into a network of African and European hackers – watch out for EuroHackTrip!