Zambians go google-eyed
Head bent and thumbs moving, Tresford Himanansa’s attention is fixed on his Samsung Galaxy phone. He swipes and types effortlessly, but swap the cellphone with a human being and he’s likely to become uncomfortable.
Working from a red-brick eight-storey building called Mpelembe House in sprawling Ndola, Zambia’s second-largest city, he rents a tiny office.
Once you have received a greeting from the introverted Himanansa, know that is about it.
Just give him a computer.
He belongs to a young generation of Zambians taking computer programming and webhosting by storm in a country where the use of the internet and cellphones have swelled in recent times.
At 29, he has designed programmes for more than 400 companies and clients in the central African country of about 13-million people. Himanansa’s dream is to build the biggest information technology company in Africa. He is slowly transforming his company, XyPNET, into a programming powerhouse – at least in Zambia.
“I grew up with the affinity for computers,” he says. “My life revolves around that.”
The first-born in a family of six, he grew up in Zambia’s tourist capital, Livingstone, where he received his primary education. While studying computer science at Zambia’s Evelyn Hone College of Applied Arts and Commerce, where he was regarded as the best programmer, his school mates used to go to him for computer solutions.
“I had lots of students coming with also sorts of computer problems and I would attend to them. I was even offered a job as a computer programmer at the college but somehow things turned different.”
Since he founded XyPNET in 2010, Himanansa has been called the Bill Gates of Zambia. Along the way, he included his cousin Clive Simanansa to handle the sales and marketing, who went on to become the vice-president of XyPNET and president at Amunzi.com, a social network run and operated by XyPNET Limited.
Simanansa, a former Airtel telecommunication company employee, had to make a tough decision to quit his job and join his cousin in 2011 to expand the IT company.
Clive Simanansa came on board to deal with sales and marketing.
Amunzi is the biggest social network in the country and has more than 700 000 users across Africa.
Himanansa’s company has been nominated for yet another accolade, the African Business Awards, to be held in New York this week. The nomination is in the category of innovation and they are competing against two other institutions.
“Even if we don’t win the award, we are likely to attract people to invest in our company, which will lead to its growth, enabling us to employ more and more Zambians as we grow,” Himanansa says.
His company developed the first e-paper in Zambia, the Times of Zambia. It addresses a void in online Zambian current affairs, particularly for Zambians living abroad.
Napeza is a downloadable mobile application invented by XyPNET to find services and business information.
“Whether it’s finding the nearest barber shop in your area or looking for a street vendor selling bubble gums, Napeza connects you,” Himanansa says.
“True, finding people, services and the location of those people offering them is a major problem in Zambia. With Napeza, we put that information on people’s fingertips.”
At first, their clients were small businesses that needed an online presence. The company rapidly expanded its client base, introduced more services and now serves clients that range from small businesses to megacompanies in various industries.
“I believe young people can make a difference. Zambia is full of awesome talent, but often we don’t stretch our brains enough to achieve results,” says Himanansa.
The cousins believe the number of mobile devices will continue to rise. According to the Zambia Information Technology Authority (Zicta), there are more than 10.5-million mobile network subscribers in Zambia.
Like most young entrepreneurs, they find it difficult to raise seed funding. “We have had to depend on organic growth. Government prefers services from foreign countries,” says Simanansa.
But their plans show they have no intention of slowing down. Their dream is to become the Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Zambia.
“We are in a never-ending journey to make XyPNET a multinational operational company, and we have plans to bring that into reality,” says Himanansa.
“We have our eyes and minds focused on the future, and we are progressing.”