By Brian Yatich
Panic app that alerts local security, medical, and fire authorities in case of an emergency
Insecurity in the East African region over the last few years has been on the rise; in Kenya for instance, Nairobi tops the list with more sophisticated criminals in operation.
A recent study conducted by Mo Ibrahim index of African governance has revealed a worrying upsurge in the level of armed robberies and other violent crimes with the country being ranked poorly in personal security for its citizens and visitors and in the safety and rule of law.
However, several institutions are taking upon themselves to curtail this state and also to capitalize on the same, as they offer range of different security apparatus like CCTV’s and scanners, but one team of university students have defied the odds and come up with their very own Security App, which acts as a watchdog in case of an emergency.
“Cases of insecurity has been a ravaging concern, the streets are no longer safe particularly during the night. Women and children are subjected to fear in lonely alleys” says James Chege co-founder Usalama App.
The developer says that there is a lot to be done with the current security situation in Kenya, pointing out the major metropolitan regions that are marred with cases of petty crime like pickpocketing which he believes can be eradicated by a more watchful society attesting that the rate of emergency response systems like the 999/911 hotline is not yet on top notch.
With task at hand, he teamed up with his school colleagues; Kenneth Gachukia, James Chege and Marvin Makau, and crafted a security app dubbed “Usalama” which translates to Safety in Swahili.
Chege discloses that Usalama Technology was conceived by Edwin Inganji, there lead founder, who seemingly got mugged and attacked by unknown assailants on his way home from university, and made away with his valuables, he then vouched to end this vice.
“Usalama application is a security application owned by Usalama technology. Its main aim is to offer fast, efficient and easy emergency communication when an individual is confronted with emergency situations which range from crime, health and gender violence based emergencies” Chege explains.
“The app, he says “contains a big database of all record of crime alerts prompted by users which will enable police and other emergency responders to identify crime-prone areas, allowing them to put in place the necessary security measures,” he says.
For a new user to register, Chege states that the app requires one to provide three contacts of their next of kin, including their spouse, a work colleague, and a parent.
“Those contacts are the first people to be notified in addition to a relevant emergency service providers in case of an emergency” he adds.
Once triggered the App discreetly sends emergency updates to all preselected contacts every five minutes at the same time, providing a one-way call allowing the recipients to listen to you without compromising your security, this will go on for a while until the situation is resolved.
“The application can be triggered in a number of ways; for instance, you can either shake the phone or click on the distress button on the home page of the App depending on the sensitive nature of the emergency” He explains.
Apart from those features, Chege says that the App has options like, “walk with me” which he says allows users to walk and monitor each other virtually on a map as they head towards different directions.
“It also has a timer which allows users to set destinations towards which they are going and have pre-defined alerts raised in the event they do not arrive, one amazing feature also is ‘usalama around’, which allows users to view other Usalama users 200 metres from their physical location in order to have a better sense of security and location and lastly a ‘based crime news’ which enables users to anonymously post crime news around them.” He says.
Chege reaffirms that the App has been so effective that it has seen it receive rare reviews and has featured in different international media.
Usalama is currently partnering with the GVRC (Gender Violence Recovery Centre) Nairobi women’s hospital.
“Several entities have called to declare an interest but we cannot disclose them as yet as contractual negotiations are currently underway, ” he says.
Starting up has been a tussle for the four, the App has been running based on the proceeds acquired from other activities conducted by Usalama Technology. A rough estimate of the amount reinvested into the application by the company is closing to half a million Kenya shillings, and they are on the course of spinning around their fortunes.
Since its launch mid-November last year, Usalama has attained more than 1500 downloads with about 300 installs in Mozambique and 300 others from across the region.
“Kenyan downloads are just slightly near the 1000 mark. The application over the past week has been averaging about 100 downloads a day. We have also received considerable media attention with articles being published both locally and internationally in media, blogs, social networks and TV” he says.
“Our target now is to grow all aspects of the enterprise into fully fledged and self-regulating departments that all turn over healthy margin. Also, we hope to have launched our other products in the East African market and have them competing at the highest level” he says.
“The main challenge,” Chege says, “we faced in the initial stages was financing before we established structures within the company that allowed us to earn money before the Usalama platform stabilised. Since our innovation was a relatively new concept, we also faced scepticism from those who did not understand or share our vision” he says.
The developer says that, for one to be a successful entrepreneur it all boils down to one thing, how you handle adversity and the ability to handle it in a positive manner.
“Entrepreneurship is never a guarantee and the road is full of ups and downs however how well you handle challenges determines your persistence and persistence always goes a long way in building enterprises,” he says.
Within the next five years, Chege says that their target is to fully penetrate the African security market, with a major global footprint market and to be the main emergency communication service provider within the continent.
Since their launch last year, the app has attracted over 3,000 users and has been shortlisted to represent Kenya in the Africa Prize for Engineering UK that aims at awarding social entrepreneurs in Africa, where only 16 African entrepreneurs are selected by the Royal Academy of Engineering based on the potential of their project. The finals for this award will be later this year.
With public safety and security of people in mind, Chege and his team plan to ensure security and peace for people in Africa and also go a long way in averting the high crime rate in the region.