African Ingenuity at Maker Faire Africa 10


Over 500 Inventors, Makers, Designers & Artists from all over Africa especially, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, South Africa &

Cyrus Kabiru displaying his glass-less glasses at MFA10

Burundi convened at the fore-court of the University of Nairobi, Kenya for the 2-day African ingenuity event which actually showed case a cross section of latest and most creative innovations in Africa and by Africans.

MFA10 was in its 2nd year and was organized by volunteers that included Erik Hersman (AfriGadget) together with TED Africa producer Emeka Okafor, Mark Grimes from Ned.com, Jennifer Wolfe, Henry Barnor of GhanaThink and social designer, Emer Beamer of Butterfly Works.

The idea behind the event is to create a platform that showcases the ingenuity in the informal sector or what is called Africa’s second economy. There’s a great phrase to describe this in Kenya where this sector is called the “jua kali”. A Swahili term for “hot sun”, this phrase refers to those people who sit in the sun on the side of the road making goods for sale.

The event, whose main sponsors included General Electric, Google, Twaweza, Mozilla, and Engineering for Change, aims to promote African ingenuity, technology & development.

According to Emeka Okafor – Event Curator at MFA10;

“We’re excited to be coming together with Kenyans to celebrate the signing of their new constitution… The fair is free and open to the public on both Friday and Saturday; 27th – 28th from 10am to 6pm and inventions will be demonstrated and put to work.”

“There is a huge need for more local manufacturing in Africa. If you take Kenya as an example, the economy is beginning to improve, and a lot of this is driven by technology and big business such mobile operators, ISPs and technology companies. But underpinning almost every single African economy is this ‘jua kali’ sector, the informal manufacturing base that makes it work. There’s definitely more need for platforms that showcase the innovation that happens in this sector,” says Erik Hersman.

There were a lot of inventions, products made from simple materials and a whole lot at the fair. Among the designers and makers that really intrigued I and other inventors at the fair were;

Robert Mburu; a physics teach living in Nairobi was the winner of GE’s Best Innovative Inventions Award at MFA10. His security system links cameras, televisions, alarm systems and mobile phones. This idea came about when his television set got stolen and he decided to use very simple tools to design a security system.

For his prize, he’s meeting General Electric’s Chief Scientist at the John F. Welch Technology Centre in Bangalore, India where he’ll get the opportunity to explore and develop on his invention. According to Deo Onyango, GE Commercial Director for East Africa;

“Mburu’s idea was a cut above the rest and also is in line with GE’s business initiative, eco-migration which promotes being environmentally considerate and producing products that are environmentally friendly without compromising the bottom line.”

Another Maker; Cyrus Kabiru, a Kenyan artist based at the Kuona Trust in Nairobi makes unique sunglasses from recycled material. Each pair of glasses is made only once; each one has its own name and story behind it, and they are each sold for a relatively inexpensive Ksh. 5000 ($60). “According to Cyrus, his work has been the glass with no “glass” made with found object is an idea he developed a couple of years ago. Also, his father never liked wearing “real glasses” therefore his desire to make something of this nature was born.”

One artisan/desinger whose work really fascinated me was Chika U. Okafor from Nigeria. He designed a prototype “Hawker Back-to-School Bag” that transforms into a foldable carrier bag to aid hawkers (street sellers). This way, they can ply their trade with ease and thus avail them the opportunity to educate themselves, train and retrain themselves to further empower themselves for present and future semi-skilled and skilled job opportunities.

Match-A-Maker; a project aimed at connecting Makers/Inventors offering solutions all over the world was made available online at the fair since it was introduced at the first MFA in Ghana last year. NairoBits and BLOC Kenya were the organization behind designing a website/blog for the makers, introducing them to social media’s positive effect on their inventions and also aiding them on whatever way they could technically.

In my opinion, this year’s event was a huge success. Congrats to the organizers for putting up such an interesting event. Hopefully, next year we shall be meeting again for Maker Faire Africa 11 somewhere in Africa.

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