Innovation is a country’s greatest investment. Most developed countries pour a lot of funding into research and technological innovation. Africa is a continent ripe with talent and resourcefulness. African youth in particular, have the ability to innovate products that would work for Africa based on her needs. Most African leaders hurt innovation by allowing Western and Eastern countries like China to dump their goods into the African market, therefore, limiting innovation and technology by Africans.
This kind of trade has hurt the African market leading to shut downs of manufacturing plants. Countries like Kenya have limited funding in research and innovation. With a growing middle class, it is imperative that African nations begin a heavy campaign of funding into technologies that would promote African innovation and manufacturing by Africans for Africans and beyond. Africa has the potential for expansion in green technologies considering most Africans already live green.
Despite all this, there is hope.One way innovation is being encouraged is through fairs. The 2012 Maker Faire Africa in Lagos Nigeria allowed innovators to showcase their skills. The international fair gave participants the opportunity to showcase their effectiveness in dealing with everyday challenges by using the limited resources available to them to create amazing products.
Lagos’s first Maker Faire stood out for its focus on solving real problems, organisers say. “In the US and Europe, there has been a lot of creative hobby innovation, and that’s great,” said Erik Hersman, a Nairobi-based technologist, blogger and one of Maker Faire Africa‘s co-founders. “But here you see a lot of practical innovation, and that’s what’s most interesting about this type of environment.”
The fair featured a mobile multi-crop processor for cassava and other local crops, worth about £3,700, in a country where a lot of the farm processing is still done using traditional techniques. “What women on the farms do in five hours, this machine does in five minutes,” said Suleiman Famro, adding that his machine would allow them to clean the cassava and collect its starch.
Ibrahim Adekunle, 27, a blacksmith, said he started innovating after getting tired of waiting for work in his shop. His latest creation, nicknamed “the entertainment Jeep”, is a vehicle that can carry a large speaker. He rents it out with a DJ during carnivals and rallies to supplement his irregular income. It earns him up to £600 during festive months.
Famro and Adekunle were among a handful of adult innovators at a fair dominated by children. Gerard Odo, a soft-spoken 12-year-old, travelled from the south-eastern city of Enugu with his mother to show his robotic toy excavator. He built its body using plywood and added hydraulic cylinders with the help of syringes. “If he could do that with no resource, imagine what a generation of people like him could do,” said Emeka Okafor, a Maker Faire Africa co-founder, blogger and New York-based social entrepreneur.
The fair also showcased a group of talented young scientists — Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola and Faleke Oluwatoyin, all 14, and Bello Eniola, 15 who debuted their pee-powered contraption. This generator commanded attention for obvious reasons. Maker Faire’s blog summarizes how it works: Urine is put into an electrolytic cell, which cracks the urea into nitrogen, water, and hydrogen. The hydrogen goes into a water filter for purification, which then gets pushed into the gas cylinder. The gas cylinder pushes hydrogen into a cylinder of liquid borax, which is used to remove the moisture from the hydrogen gas. This purified hydrogen gas is pushed into the generator.1 Liter of urine gives you 6 hours of electricity.
Critics were everywhere. Gerardine Botte, a chemical engineer at Ohio University who invented the urea electrolysis process, told NBC that this is a high school project that should not be taken seriously. While the West may not take this innovation seriously, Africa has her own challenges that do not parallel the West and African innovation is focused on what works in Africa. These students must be celebrated and granted the funding they need to expand their ideas into a large scale.
Governments must expand their funding in African innovation