MOBILE gaming has become the most popular cellphone-based activity among youths in Kenya, according to Afroes, a mobile gaming company based in that country.

The trend is also seen in other African countries, and is one on which CEO Anne Shongwe plans to capitalise.

Afroes, which operates in South Africa via the Innovation Hub, a Gauteng-based science and technology business park, designs games with a social message and aims to reach 100-million young Africans who own cellphones.

At a recent Wits Business School lecture in Johannesburg, Ms Shongwe said mobile connections were an important part of development in Africa, home to half of the 12 fastest-growing economies in the world, including Ghana, Ethiopia and Angola.

She said youth development in South Africa, where 29-million young people had access to mobile technology, was being held back by a lack of access to information, finance and support.

"The youth of Africa can lead this continent to a different destiny," she said. "The majority of South Africa is the youth, so we need to invest in shaping their minds to become the leaders this country will need in the future."

Dr Patrick Marais, course convener in the department of computer science at the University of Cape Town, said the potential for growth in African mobile gaming was "huge", although an absence of players at international level threatened to limit that potential.

"The only limitation is the lack of support for South Africa by companies such as Apple, which does not have a game category (in its App Store) for South Africa due to some legal issues," he said.

"If there were more publicity for South African mobile developers and a digital distribution platform that made such games easily accessible to locals, I think local mobile game developers would do well."

Dr Marais said mobile game designers and developers needed funding and distribution platforms, and South Africa was losing skills in this area as it lacked these platforms.

"The issues are more about getting venture capital to fund start-ups, opening South Africa to digital distribution and convincing people that there are jobs to be had in the small but growing local game industry," he said. "Many aspirant game developers leave South Africa to try their luck overseas, believing incorrectly that there are no jobs to be had locally."

Ms Shongwe first started considering the development of educational mobile games while she was working for the United Nations. She then resigned from her job in 2008 to research African folklore and promote social entrepreneurship.

She said games developed by Afroes for the South African market were aimed at youths between 12 and 25 years old and raised awareness of gender equality and children's rights.

One such game is called Moraba, based on a traditional South African game of strategy known as Morabaraba. It promotes gender equality through sets of questions on women's rights that players can answer, with correct answers allowing them to advance to the next level.

Afroes also designed a game around children's rights called Champ the Chase for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. It can be played on the Champions for Children website (www.championsforchildren.org.za), a child protection platform that also enables its users to report child abuse.

The company has also developed the Ongoza Mobile Institute, a virtual service that trains youths about entrepreneurship and business management.

Afroes games are available on the Vodafone Live multimedia platform and on its own website (www.afroes.com) for free.

magubanek@bdfm.co.za