Checkout The Cool New African Emoticons (Smilies), “Oju” Africa!

The face of online social interaction is about to get a cool new look, as the first ever Afro emoticons have been launched by a Mauritius-based app company. Called “Oju,” which translates to “faces” in the Nigerian Yoruba language, the icons are meant to tackle a lack of racial diversity in mobile characters. The emoticons are designed to work on all Android platforms, and will shortly be available on iOS. The company says that so far there&#39ve been more than 16,000 downloads, the majority of which have come from the United States.

The move came after celebrities such as Miley Cyrus and Tahj Mowry petitioned Apple over a lack a racial diversity in Apple&#39s emojis.

The news quickly had Twitter buzzing as people joined the #EmojiEthnicityUpdate discussions — but that wasn&#39t the end of the story. Without wasting any time, Oju Africa announced a few hours later that it had already tackled the lack of racial diversity by introducing its own set of Afro emoticons on Google Play Store.

The company said it had been working on the icons since late 2012 and was planning to officially launch them on April 10. Yet, the social media hype after Apple&#39s response prompted them to speed up their release date — trumping market-leading companies in the process.

In light of this achievement, CEO of the ground-breaking company, Alpesh Patel was featured on CNN African Startup. Check out the feature below.

Alpesh Patel, CEO of Oju Africa

CNN: Why did you decide to launch the Afro emoticons?

Alpesh Patel: it&#39s something that we thought about since late 2012. We decided to do it because of our core business, Mi-Fone. We had a look at the offerings in the market and said what can we do to make our phones more African; what can we do with the software, because all of the phones are kind of looking the same now.

We actually looked at it and said “you know what, there&#39s actually a lack of black smilies” — every phone that we looked at had yellow smilies so we said “why can&#39t we have some smilies, or some emoticons, that are more relevant to the people that we supply to?”

The reason we launched it three weeks ago is because of this petition from Miley Cyrus and MTV — petition to Apple CEO complaining about the lack of racially diverse emoticons and Apple said “yes, we&#39re going to look into it.” But within a couple of hours of seeing that, we put our press release out and already claimed ownership — that we have actually developed this already. We&#39re the first ones in the world to do it and people should work with us and use our emoticons because they represent people of color in a very nice way, they&#39re not derogatory at all.

CNN: How do you feel about beating tech giants?

AP: I don&#39t think really it&#39s about beating anyone to it — I just think that it&#39s very important for us as, a small African company, to make it known to the world that we were the first to do it. Big companies work with small companies all the time. We would like the big companies to work with us.

We&#39ve developed something very unique, very innovative. It&#39s been a big hit over the last three weeks and we feel that it will really help lift African innovation into the global audience because really not much things come out of Africa which you can sell overseas, most of the stuff will start from overseas and into Africa.

CNN: Are you afraid your emoticons might fall out of favor when bigger companies release their own icons?

AP: No, the big companies have the muscle anyway, they&#39ll do whatever they want to do. At the end of the day, we will just continue with what we&#39re doing, we don&#39t have those budgets and resources like they do so really today it is about who makes the loudest noise, but at least we were the ones to make the noise first.

We&#39re just going to keep on saying to people, “why do you want to actually go and develop and waste money when you can go right now to the Google Play Store in Android and download the Oju Africa app for free?” There&#39s no need to go and reinvent the wheel — it&#39s already available and it&#39s out of Africa where it&#39s even better than someone in London or New York doing this. We&#39ve actually done this in Africa.

CNN: How many downloads have you had so far?

AP: We&#39ve had 16,000 downloads and most of them are from the U.S. — we&#39ve had downloads from very seasoned markets and they&#39ve looked at it and said “hang on a minute, wow, this is a really cool innovation but it&#39s coming from Africa.” You know innovation is not something that belongs to the West, so we&#39re very happy with what&#39s happened but obviously we&#39ve got a long way to go.

CNN: Do you think that there should be more cartoon characters from Africa?

AP: Oju is an iconic African character — if you look at the main logo with the tongue sticking out, he&#39s a cheeky, very friendly, cool African character that also works in digital by the smilie, but also works in non-digital by a traditional character licensing.

Today Africa does not have its own Mickey Mouse, does not have its own Hello Kitty, there is no African character brand, and we said “hang on minute, we&#39re sitting on something that has huge potential worldwide. I mean if you can imagine an Oju cereal packet like Coco Pops with Oju collectibles, if you can imagine Oju nappies for babies, an Oju chocolate bar, an Oju toy — the possibilities are endless and this is what I believe really will help lift Africa.

CNN: What is the role of mobile in helping in the development of African countries?

AP: Mobile is basically what makes Africa go round today, what makes Africa work today. We never had any fixed infrastructure so Africa has come from nothing to wireless and in that process we&#39ve been able to develop some superior networks in Africa compared to the ones in the western world.

The mobile phone has become central to everyone&#39s life — contrary to popular belief the world is not round anymore, it&#39s actually a four-inch screen for most mass market African consumers because this is where they&#39re going to do all their business.

Credit: CNN

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