Computer science student Ruth Njeri Waiganjo receives a cash award from the First Lady of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame, in an awards ceremony on May 12. Waiganjo received the honor based on her work on a mobile phone app designed to make driving safer.

African Technology Prize Awarded

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Computer science student Ruth Njeri Waiganjo receives a cash award from the First Lady of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame, in an awards ceremony on May 12. Waiganjo received the honor based on her work on a mobile phone app designed to make driving safer.

Computer science student Ruth Njeri Waiganjo (middle) receives a cash award from the First Lady of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame (left), in a May 12, 2017, awards ceremony. Waiganjo was honored for her work on a mobile phone app designed to make driving safer.

Technology wizard Ruth Njeri Waiganjo used her computer knowledge to develop a mobile phone app that will make driving safer. Her app is called Safe Driver. It is designed to help people to better identify unsafe drivers, as well as to alert drivers to traffic jams on the road ahead. Because of her work on Safe Driver, Waiganjo was named Ms. Geek Africa earlier this month.

As part of her prize, Waiganjo was awarded three-million Rwandan francs, or about 3,500 U.S. dollars (USD). The prize was awarded on May 12, 2017, by Rwandan First Lady Jeannette Kagame at the Kigali Convention Center in Kigali, Rwanda. Along with Kagame, First Ladies from the African countries of São Tomé and Príncipe, Mali, and Zambia were also in attendance.

No one was more surprised by her victory than Waiganjo herself. “I’m still in shock. I still can’t believe I’ve won it,” Waigano said. “It feels amazing!”

African Women in Technology

While the title Ms. Geek Africa is meant to be humorous, the reason behind the competition is actually very serious.

The competition was started in 2014 by the education organization Smart Africa. It is designed to inspire young African women to solve problems facing people in Africa today by using science, technology, engineering, and math. These four fields are more commonly known by the acronym STEM.

“Investing in girls is investing in the future prosperities of our countries,” Zambia’s Vice President Inonge Wina said in a speech at the awards ceremony. She said it was important in the STEM fields to “ensure girls are not relegated to the sideline.”

This year’s Ms. Geek Africa featured eight African young women. First, the contestants participated in a week-long class designed to give them the presentation, communication, and critical thinking skills they would need to describe their projects to judges. With this training, contestants were required to present their technology projects to a group of judges that included top African business leaders and information and computer technology experts.

Waiganjo and her two runners-up each received prizes including money, certificates, and computer equipment. The first runner up was Leah Akimana from Rwanda. She developed a mobile phone app called Bus System Simulator which is designed to improve public transportation. The second runner-up was another Rwandan, Delphine Micyomyiza, who developed a water-tracking system to prevent water theft. Akimana received two-million Rwandan francs (about $2,400 USD) while Micyomyiza received one-million Rwandan francs (about $1,200 USD). Both Waigajo and runner-up Akimana will get to attend the ITU Telecom World conference later this year in Busan, South Korea.

Safe Driver

Ruth Njeri Waiganjo is a computer science student from the African country of Kenya, where she attends the University of Nairobi. She says the idea for her prize-winning app Safe Driver came from a school project.

“In my school when you get to fourth year, you are required to come up with a project, so I had to think of a project to do,” she explains. “A very nice professor gave us project suggestions and mentioned that there was a project he was working on where they were collecting data from matatus [a kind of mini bus] in Kenya. He told us one of the things that the data could be used for is driver profiling, and I decided to take up the idea.”

Inspired by her professor, Waiganjo thought about how collecting data about transportation could make driving safer. “When an accident happens, an insurance company doesn’t have real time information showing when, how, who and where the incident occurred,” she explains. “They rely on police inspection reports that are sometimes not accurate. My technology solution responds to transport problems like frequent accidents.”

 Ruth Njeri Waiganjo, far right, and the other seven contestants in the 2017 Ms. Geek Africa competition.

Ruth Njeri Waiganjo, far right, and the other seven contestants in the 2017 Ms. Geek Africa competition.

Victory!

When asked how she managed to beat such a talented group of contestants, Ruth Njeri Waiganjo said she paid special attention to the sorts of questions judges asked in earlier rounds of the competition.

“I think it’s because I worked on the questions the judges had asked previously in-depth and totally incorporated in my pitch,” she explains. “With the questions they asked in the final pitch, I was able to answer most of them nicely showing I really knew about my project.”

Even with all of the hard work, Waiganjo says she still loves both technology and learning. “I love technology because it’s so broad and things keep changing so you have to keep learning. I like reading books; they say that the book is always better than the movie. I read self-help books to help me become better.”

Additional Resources

Read more about Ruth Njeri Waiganjo’s victory at Rwandan English-language newspaper The New Times and News Ghana.

Learn more about the Ms. Geek Africa competition at Smart Africa.

Discover more African contributions to science and technology at MIT News and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Images and Sources

Award Ceremony Photo: Ministry of Youth and ICT Rwanda.
Award Ceremony Photo License: Public domain

Contestants Photo: Ministry of Youth and ICT Rwanda
Contestants Photo License: Public domain