Zimbabwe News

How one man got Zimbabwe and northern Ontario on Google Street View

When Tawanda Kanhema saw that that his home country of Zimbabwe wasn’t on Google Street View, he took matters into his own hands.

Kanhema, who moved to the U.S. in 2009 and currently works in Silicon Valley, reached out to Google and the company let him borrow one of their 360-degree Street View cameras. From the streets of Harare to the Victoria Falls, he covered over 800 km in Zimbabwe, travelling by car, boat, bicycle and on foot to map the country.

Google Street View first launched in 2007 in the U.S. before slowly expanding to western Europe, Canada, and​ parts of Asia and Latin America. While Street View coverage is comprehensive in wealthy countries, it’s sparse or non-existent in most developing nations, including in much of the African continent.

Kanhema says there are numerous complex factors that often result in tech companies not prioritizing Africa when it comes to rolling out products like Google Street View, such as the challenges in building local relationships, but saw no reason to wait for them if he can make it happen on his own.

“For me I realized that there was really no need to wait for the pace of technology, which can be really slow for some of these locations. Instead, I was able to just figure out a way to begin doing this very small scale,” he said.

After mapping Zimbabwe, Kanhema moved on to capturing other remote areas around the world, including 800 km of roads in northern Ontario, near James Bay, while working with the Mushkegowuk Council.

Capturing the icy roads of northern Ontario, where temperatures could drop to -40 C in the winter, came with an additional set of challenges.

“I had to figure out how to keep the camera powered. In northern Ontario, batteries will last just a matter of minutes because of the extreme weather conditions. So, figuring out a way to keep the camera going five to six hours a day, that was a bit of a challenge,” said Kanhema.

Videographers have also captured footage of Kanhema’s Street View expeditions. Kanhema hopes to see a documentary film come out in the future.

“I think that there’s an opportunity to package this… and really tell the story in more detail,” he added.

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