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BY Abu Mubarik, 1:30pm October 21, 2022,

Say hello to Abena, a local voice assistant by a Ghanaian aiming to rival Siri, others

Image via Nana Ghartey/Twitter

Language technologies are not new in the world. Big brands and individuals have launched their own voice assistant applications to help people who cannot read and write navigate the internet or their devices.

Siri is popularly associated with Apple devices. Google Now was also released in 2012 while Alexa was released in 2014. What is common among these applications is that they were largely made for the Western market.

This means that Africans who cannot speak popular western languages like English are excluded from the global age of technology and communication. Yet, the African market is one of the largest in the world with a population of 1.5 billion, according to the latest estimates.

While the challenge of designing an African-themed app appears understandable due to the multiplicity of languages spoken on the continent, it is not excusable because western tech firms have traditionally invested less in the continent.

To fill in the void, Ghanaian tech developer Nana Ghartey recently launched his voice-assisted software to help thousands of older and visually-impaired people all over Ghana excluded by Western voice technology to communicate.

He started building the application from his grandmother’s house. Ghartey taught himself mobile app development and built desktop applications, websites, and eventually mobile games by reading the programming textbooks that an uncle visiting from the U.S. had left behind, according to TechCabal.

He calls the voice assistant device he first made to help his grandmother, Kofi. He built it using his grandmother’s voice and that of his sister as data. The voice assistant device supports the Fante language, his grandmother’s preferred language that is spoken by some six million Ghanaians. The application allows his grandmother, who has impaired vision, to easily scroll through the home screen, according to TechCabal. 

“All she had to do was tap the side of the button to launch the Kofi app, and she could instantly receive news updates, play music, stream radio programs, and follow Twitter trends—curated by the AI with human moderators to prevent misinformation—without having a Twitter account.”

The 32-year-old Ghanaian developer would build another voice assistant for the wider public, Abena. Kofi and Abena became the first voice assistants offered in Fante and Twi, respectively. 

Adding the Twi language (Ghana’s most widely spoken language) proved to be most difficult because Ghartey didn’t have nearly as much data to work with initially, according to TechCabal. In the end, he hired religious translators known for church-related translations in Twi while he continued to gather information about the language.  

Ghartey, who studied Information Technology at the Ghana Telecom University in Accrapent, spent six years building Abena AI which he recently released on the Google Play Store as a Mobobi product. Mobobi LLC is his mobile app development company. Abena AI functions offline and allows users to use voice commands on it to monitor trending news on Twitter, get a weather update, check, transfer, and recharge their airtime balances; and transfer money with their preferred mobile payment app.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 21, 2022


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