Rwanda’s Jifunza Preserving African Culture through Technology


10291251_312605862227289_4230695631353986589_nJifunza, founded in February 2014 in Kigali by Derek Blair and Yves Niyonshuti wants to help preserve African culture using technology.

Jifunza‘s app called Menya (Knowledge in Kinyarwanda) aims to help users learn African languages, from wherever they are.

“A large customer segment for us is visitors to Africa who want to learn local languages. I was once a visitor myself and I was frustrated with the lack of digital resources available for learners such as myself,” Blair told TechMoran. “Back in Canada, I also noticed the lack of quality language learning content for African children in the diaspora who are interested in learning their parents language. Since there are so many languages in Africa to learn, we turned to crowd-sourcing and the idea for Menya was born.”

Blair, who is the CTO of Jifunza used to work for Microsoft Game Studios in Vancouver, Canada as well as other mobile gaming companies has a BSc in Industrial Mathematics from Simon Fraser University while his co-founder, Yves is an IT student and skilled developer based in Kigali Rwanda with a passion for entrepreneurship.

Now in beta testing, the app has received over 3000 inquiries via its landing page and will be launching to the public at DEMOAfrica.

Menya is a bit like YouTube but for language learning games instead of videos. So users can search for and play lessons on a given language but users can also submit and contribute their own lessons to the community. The process of submitting a lesson is very easy and requires the user to simply speak to their smartphone in the target language when prompted. It takes only 1 min but when combined magically with our game templates the results are fantastic. The creator is encouraged to share their creation with friends and family. Lessons can be created on iOS and Android with Windows Phone coming soon. The lessons can be played on the same devices but also on the web in any HTML5 enabled browser.

  10320433_309996862488189_3146041890247068177_nJifunza charges $1.99 for the iPad version of Menya while other versions are free. The firm’s second revenue stream is based on advertising in the app and partnerships with African tourism boards, TBA at DEMOAfrica.

There are of course lots of apps out there for learning common African languages, some of which are made in Rwanda and designed specifically for learning Kinyarwanda, but Blair says they are not giving up.

“We focus on providing very high quality content even for the most obscure African languages.  We can do this because the content is user generated and then combined with templates to create rich digital experiences. This is a unique property of Menya,” Blair told TechMoran.

Bootstrapped, Jifunza has been working with the linguistic challenges of designing effective language learning games which has been a ton of work and is confident that it will have something to impress at DEMO.

The two, who also run Iwe Labs based in Kigali and Lusaka says they are very honoured and humbled but also extremely excited and never imagined it would make it. Jifunza says its committed to the continuous improvement of Menya based on its users feedback and analytics data.