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An app that directs visitors to your home



ROMA – YOU type in the name and the number of the street where you want to go, anywhere in Lesotho. Then the app draws a line from where you are to a specific location you want to go to.

It guides you there. It is Lesotho’s own “Google Maps”, a GPS app. Well, it does not accept street names and numbers yet but that is where it is going.

For now it uses numbers representing them. Is this kind of app new? Nope! Is it a game-changer in Lesotho?

A big YES!

Test the app here using the following IDs:

– 10007 Starting address
– 10128 Destination Address

Lesotho is so strange a place, the normal GPS apps do not figure it out.

“That’s because we don’t have street names and numbers in most of the country,” said Melvin Thoabala, a National University of Lesotho (NUL)-trained IT guru leading the technical team in this project.

“In most cases, we don’t even have streets to start with.”

One person who has experienced sleepless nights worried about the situation of lack of physical addresses and its implications in Lesotho is Thuso Green.

He is one of the fearless investors who created Sekhametsi Consortium—a multibillion Goliath which partly owns Vodacom Lesotho— two decades back.

He approached the NUL Innovation Hub to find out if they could think of any technological solution to the street problem in Lesotho.

You see, if you were to come to Lesotho first time and observe its housing arrangement, you would be forgiven for thinking you walked back in time to the early 1400s.

Our settlements are still medieval!

Not only do we not have streets, in many cases, we cannot have streets because buildings are arranged haphazardly right to the heart of Maseru, the capital of Lesotho.

“When you reach Ha-Matala circle, drive three metres, take a right off-ramp, and travel a bit until you see a big tree by a red house. Then take a right turn,” a typical (and depressing) everyday conversation in Lesotho of one person directing another to his house.

Even more depressing is the fact that almost everyone feels helpless about the situation.

“There is nothing we can do about it,” people say.

Well, the technologically savvy and younger generation Green approached through the NUL Innovation Hub has a different thought.

Green found at the Hub, one Pabatso Matsoso, a Masters of Science in Economics student then, who was willing to put together a coalition of IT gurus to create the app.

She made a call and formed a team. The problem had to be solved by Information Technology (IT) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). From the IT team came Melvin Thoabala and Tatolo Phahla.

From the GIS team came Lerata Lerata and Simon Matooane. Together with Green and Matsoso, a team of the fearsome six-some NUL graduates was on the loose.

A place called Ha-Matala in Maseru was the first target of the GIS team. The place would be used for a confirmation that this app could work.

The haphazard nature of Lesotho’s settlement meant that the GIS team would have to not only carry maps but actually visit the place for what Lerata called “digitisation.”

The idea was to identify by digital drawings, every plot to the extent they could.

Later, each plot would be given an ID (addresses made of unique numbers) and that ID related to a street number and name.

It is possible to create order “in the chaos” by associating every plot with a specific street.

“But we are yet to provide the street names, in fact, it would be okay if the residents of the areas were to provide the names themselves,” the GIS team said.

Once done, the team then passed the work to the IT team. This team created IDs for the identified plots and made it possible for one to move from one plot to another.

That is, if you are in Plot A, you can now type in the ID for Plot B and the app will draw a line along the route that will take you from Plot A to sent case B.

It was not as simple as it sounds. Reconciling the files used by the two teams to make it into one working file was the most challenging.

However, they did it. So what’s next?

“We just have to turn IDs into street names and numbers as a proof of concept. Then we can approach service providers who need this information such as banks, electricity and water providers and so on to help fund this into a wider project if they so wish.”

Own Correspondent

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