Niti Bhan

Maker Faire Africa: Innovation and Ingenuity for Africans, by Africans

Guest Blogger Niti Bhan is the Founder of Emerging Future Labs. She had a chance to attend Maker Faire Africa, which took place in the University of Nairobi a few weeks back. You can learn more about MFA by visiting their website, watching this video and seeing their Flickr photo stream. You can also read previous NextBillion articles that relate to the role of innovation and ingenuity in development.

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Attending Maker Faire Africa on the grounds of Nairobi University, Kenya was an exhilarating experience! Makers and inventors from all over, workshops on solar power and the internet, children’s art, and “Makers at the Mike” sharing their experiences, all mingling and talking and connecting with each other – we didn’t want it to end. Inventions of note, worthy of both support and with special investment abd business potential included the following:

Alex Odira Odundo, from Kisumu, presented his Sisal Processing machinery – three simple, separate machines that set up neatly on one table that take sisal fibre from leaf to finished sisal fibre rope thus providing the future owner with all they need to set up a small scale industry almost anywhere. Alex is also experimenting with wind power systems as many of his customers face the challenge of accessing regular electricity supply. His invention was so well received that others asked if he could begin prototyping a variation that would also process water hyacinth – very common in Kisumu which is on the shores of Lake Victoria – and a local source of fibre for rope used in making lampshades and tote bags. The entire unit costs just 160,000 Kenyan Shillings (approximately 1600 euros or just under USD 2000).

Alex, with his rope machine.

Simon Mwaura Kimani could be said to have had the most popular exhibit – a home automation system that was controlled by SMS where he had a working prototype that included a tea maker made from spare parts of random home appliances. He designed and built the whole thing himself and is now receiving some support for his system development through the Fab Lab at the University of Nairobi.

Simon, surrounded by a curious crowd.

Lastly, Norbert Okech’s inventions stood out as well for their positive impact on society – his solar power fetish has led him to develop street lights, lamps and a host of other inventions and his wish to meet and connect to other inventor/engineers brought him all the way from Kampala, Uganda to attend the Maker Faire in Nairobi, Kenya. His enthusiasm and commitment to his work was clearly apparent as he laughingly told us how he creatively overcomes the troubles he has trying to source LED lamps and electronic components without access to Paypal or local suppliers in the region. It shouldn’t be so hard to be an inventor in Africa but those who are have truly overcome some great odds to make and create the visions they have imagined and to have reached where they have.

One of Norbert’s solar-powered traffic lights.