We came across Babusi a few years back, he actually built our current website and helped us launch our membership programme. Babusi is one of the few creatives that we have come across that has a balanced eye when it comes to to designing and developing. When working with Babusi it is always an adventure as he is in tune with current technology trends and tools. In this conversation he takes us through his journey, ideas and the state of tech in Africa as a practising creative. He is the currently Digital Innovator of the year in the NESTLINGS AWARDS.
CN: Please introduce yourself, who you are and what you do?
Babusi Nyoni: I’m a 28 year old maker of digital things, born in Zimbabwe and currently living in Cape Town.
CN: What kind of digital things do you make?
Babusi Nyoni: I started out designing and developing websites and mobile applications in 2013 but I’ve since branched out to making Virtual & Augmented Reality experiences, and developing artificially intelligent software for brands.
CN: Did you get a formal education?
Babusi Nyoni: Fortunately, I didn’t, because this allowed me to pursue any of my areas of interest. And as an inherently curious person, this has gone a long way in directing my career trajectory.
CN: Favourite projects to date?
Babusi Nyoni: There’s so many! But off the bat, I count the artificially intelligent football banter bot we built for Heineken as my favourite. Because it was very dangerous to execute and just as rewarding. Another project dear to my heart is the ambitious lifestyle magazine Nkosi Dube and I worked on in 2012, “Horizon.” It introduced me to a very productive, collaborative way of working and helped me level up my skill in the process.
CN: Whats the perfect brief?
Babusi Nyoni: “something… something… I have a million dollars.” I’m kidding (sort of). I’m not sure what it starts with but it should end with “…blow my mind.”
CN: How do you balance design and development?
Babusi Nyoni: I learnt that the trick is to treat design as science and development as art. UI design revolves around the economics of pixels, and as a minimalist I am very frugal with them, so every pixel must serve a purpose. And when treating development, I ignore the limitations of syntax and imagine each statement as poetry. Cheesy, but it works.
CN: How do you balance 9-5 and freelance work?
Babusi Nyoni: What happened was, in 2013 when I decided to pick up development, I studied and experimented with coding languages every night until 4am. Without fail.
When I did that, my body became accustomed to 3 or less hours of sleep and I’ve simply carried over this convenient sleeping pattern, allowing me to play with new technologies and make cool things for friends after hours.
CN: What are your thoughts on current creative & cultural industries in Africa?
Babusi Nyoni: In my view Africa’s creative & cultural industries are entering a very digitally-aware space that has seen artists and entrepreneurs single-handedly elevate their craft to the global stage. Africa’s tech scene is fast catching up with its creative contemporary and it’s exciting times for both.
CN: You started WETU, what was the purpose and how has it panned out?
Babusi Nyoni: We started WETU Collective in 2013 after realising there was a wealth of Zimbabwean talent in and outside of its borders that could be tapped into to create new work at the meeting place of design, technology and storytelling. The initial model for collaboration was very structured and in hindsight, idealistic, considering how every member leads a career-focused life. But over the years members have collaborated organically amongst themselves and produced well-received work. There is still, however, the need for a group project to properly put into perspective the nature of the work we do here and I’m sure that will come into fruition soon.
CN: In terms of tech scene , are we as African creatives using tech well? Why don’t we have companies like uber, Facebook etc.?
Babusi Nyoni: Sadly, the first wave of Africa’s tech boom was riddled with a lot of retro-fitted business models that had seen major success in other markets but weren’t quite applicable for the local markets in which they were “conceived.” Fortunately, creatives and developers have recently exhibited growth and found their own way and are visibly comfortable in pursuing genuinely disruptive African ideas that will be on par with, if not exceed, the successes of popular startups including Uber and Airbnb.
CN: Any big African tech ideas you are liking?
Babusi Nyoni: I spoke about this recently with Andile Masuku of African Tech Roundup, I’m really excited at the prospects of Artificial Intelligence in Sub-Saharan Africa ,considering the plethora of big data sources we’ve accumulated over the years as a continent. I’m currently working on an AI program that will predict the next major migratory crisis on the continent and the possibilities of AI, coupled with Deep Learning are mind-blowing.
I’m also really interested in how Bitcoin will disrupt Africa’s existing fintech structure. The triumph of mobile money platforms in recent years makes me optimistic regarding the success of a decentralised currency system in Africa.
CN: Thoughts on current state of Zimbabwe? Do you miss home?
Babusi Nyoni: Zimbabwe is in a fragile dare-I-say “transitionary” place as a country and I am cautiously optimistic of imminent change. I’m very cautious because I’ve spent 28 years of my life under the rule of one man and the horizon of change has proved itself an elusive notion.
Do I miss home? If home is people, then yes. I miss my family a lot, I miss my friends. But I lost a huge chunk of what patriotism I held in 2008 when I physically felt that the state had failed its people and we were on our own.
CN: What advice do you have for your fellow young Africans?
Babusi Nyoni: Do you. If you’re scared to, that’s perfectly fine and necessary for exceptional work to eventually flourish. Don’t leave this earth without having lived it fully. As Kanye West said: “Maximum expression while I have air in my lungs.”
CN: What does creativity mean to you?
Babusi Nyoni: Creativity is freedom. It’s how you express yourself when you’re in control.