Have we been here all the time? Or did we just arrive? Ask a lawyer, an estate agent, a carpenter or a plumber in New York or Milan, Welling or Oxford for his or her address. The answer can be very short and sweet. “Street number, streetname and postal or zipcode” or at worst “a block from XXXXXXX and XXXXXX; 3 minutes drive/walk/bike”. With your local map you hit the road and your are there. Or you use any one of the numerous streetnav systems and you find your way there. Of course its never that rosy. If you are like me, when the sweet voice says turn left now you choose to either neglect or you are carrying so much speed that its impossible to obey.

The same question in Dakar, Lome, Kinshasa and definitely Accra will yield any one or various permutations of “…… when you get out of the vehicle, look to your right, you will find a kenkey seller selling in a green kiosk and often sitting under the mango tree. Call me when you get there. ………..”. You have no such luxury of neglecting your advice. Walk under the sun or drive in a warm car and decide not to respect your advice. What under normal circumstances should be a 5 min drive can end up taking 25 to say the least. Simple reason is this, a few of the variables may either have vanished, the whole or part of the information may be wrong or the conditions may not be ideal for you to pick out all the waypoints so vaguely described. If you compound that with my typical obstinacy, you will return to your point of origin not having achieved the object of the travel.

The cost of inefficient addressing system in most of our African countries is horrendous. Unfortunately while most of us ‘have been here’ for a very long time, our priorities have never been on this matter. We hardly calculate the cost to the courier and delivery sector or how much of professional and executive time is spent on giving directions or indeed how many transactions are lost.

While directory services such as Google have integrated already existing and painstakingly documented geographical data in the developed economies, attention is hardly paid to the fast-growing problem of lack of addressing in developing economies or if at alone, merely as a political lip-service. Systems and services are choking and there seem to be no intelligent way out. In a recent personal interview with an Executive of a large parcel delivery company operating in the Middle East and in Accra, the comparative cost of last mile direction in Accra is 30% of profit cost. Its 1.5% in the Middle East. That cost is not necessarily a gain to any service provider. Its a massive loss to the environment through pollution and to the business through excessive burn of fuel and lost time. Packages have to be redelivered due to the inevitable wrong addressing.

What’s the way out? We are not going to list all the possibilities save to say that:
Henson Geodata Technologies (HGT) has developed a seemingly simple solution. Businesses are encouraged to generate their location information and post the same to an interactive map and be found within seconds of submission of their information by anyone looking for them. This solution is a technologically driven solution to a perennial challenge. Its spurred on by the tremendous growth of smartphones in Africa and by the increasing consciousness that (1) Governments will never be able to conceive and complete the necessary infrastructure without selling all the citizens of the country to pay for it and (2) the dynamics of our development is such that private sector has to innovate to assist and yet compete with Government. After all, if Government will not fix the road leading to an industry, the business owner looking at the bottom line and calculating the huge cost of tyres and parts needed for his/her vehicle park will attempt to fix it and save future expenditure.
That’s the rationale for the HGT Solution. Its also underscored by a wrong assumption that services such as Bing and Google maps are designed to assist the African search for non-existent data. These services will pick up what’s available but are not designed to create the location data for Africans. African businesses must logically create their location information in order to be included in directory services. How many barbers, and tomato sellers, market stall owners have the required knowledge to place a marker on Google maps for example? A few. Unless they have a dedicated app for that purpose.
The map of Africa developed and hosted by HGT is updated by each business and individual using an application aptly called LOCSMMAN. Pictures of the facility can be added to the address to aid those in the vicinity to identify the property. The information uploaded is picked up and displayed instantly.

Once done, the answer to the question …. where are your offices, simply becomes silapha.com.
Integrated in the search is also a navigation system intended to work offline so users are able to navigate without using their mobile data. A few questions are answered by the silapha scenario:

1. Where are you? We are here on silapha.com.

2. How do I get to your place? Use silapha.com

What’s required?

The young men and women spread over Africa developing silapha are almost done. Its up to business owners to :

1. download and install the free locsmman app
2. complete the application form,
3. submit the information, and
4. add an image or two.

Kofi Henaku (Updated linkedin article https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/silapha-means-we-here-kofi-henaku/), 2022