The first set of African Emoticons ever released, the Oju Emoticon App was launched amidst a US-based media controversy in mid-2014.
Western journalists and pop stars alike had been calling for ethnic diversity in emoticons – the widely used expressive icons available in mobile and web-based messaging services – since 2012, using hashtags such as #EmojiEthnicityUpdate, and the small Mauritius-based digital company Oju Africa saw an opportunity to release a set of “afro emoticons” they had been developing for some time. The Oju Emoticon App – oju translates to “faces” in Nigeria’s Yoruba language – was designed to work on all Android platforms. The emoticons are currently being developed for iOS usage, and upon a month of their release in May 2014, the company had registered over 16,000 downloads. Caught under the limelight, Oju Africa took the opportunity to call attention to the digital innovations being made in Africa, hoping the set of emoticons will, in the words of CEO Alpesh Patel “help lift African innovation into the global audience,” and invert traditional patterns. “Not much things come out of Africa which you can sell overseas,” Patel notes, “most of the stuff will start from overseas and into Africa.”