Twice now I’ve been so engrossed in “Cross Dakar City” that I’ve missed my subway stop. It’s a deceptively simple game for a smartphone, an updated Frogger framed as the story of a young beggar, Mamadou, trying to cross Dakar to look for his biological parents. He has to avoid road traffic, rivers, trains and bombs to get where he’s going.
We talked to Ousseynou Khadim Beye, the developer behind the game, to find out more about the tech scene in Dakar and what it takes to be a Senegalese video game designer.
Growing up in Dakar, Beye was an avid gamer who kept a critical eye on what he was playing. “I always wanted to develop my own video game” says Beye. He studied computing at the Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique Dakar before going on exchange to Lyon in France and getting an internship at Ubisoft, the French company behind hit games like Assassin’s Creed and Just Dance. It was at Ubisoft that he discovered how to apply his training.
One of the major barriers to creating more app developers in Senegal, says Beye, is the way computing is taught in schools. In Senegal, he says, there’s a lot of emphasis on learning programming languages without any instruction on how to connect it to the real world.
“People should be more oriented to resolving solutions than just learning programming languages,” he says. “Learning languages without applying them is not useful.”
The other barrier is money. Beye developed “Cross Dakar City” at nights and on weekends between shifts at his day job: a software project manager in the French energy sector. Other Senegalese developers don’t have that luxury he says. For tech to thrive in Senegal, says Beye, there needs to be facilities where people can do their work: “Having coworking spaces and incubators to help young entrepreneurs could help. [Developers] need to know they can satisfy their basic needs while working on projects that they love.”
Since the launch of “Cross Dakar City”—the first Senegalese game in Apple and Google app stores—students have been writing to Beye asking him how to use their training to create real world applications. “It’s inspiring more students in Dakar to investigate possibilities,” he says.