Re-use in the (unofficial) Kenyan Ironworks Industry

Gikomba is a part of Nairobi that is well known for metal working. I had been meaning to come this way for a while, and today afforded me the perfect opportunity to drop down into Gikomba and see what kind of enterprising activities Kenyans were up to.

I ran into a George Odhiambo, a bulk fabricator of everything from wheelbarrows to chisels. The chisels caught my eye, primarily because one of them looked a lot like a shaft straight out of a Land Rover. It turns out that they reuse multiple types of iron for their goods, including leftover pieces from old vehicles. Nothing goes to waste here.

Even more interesting to me (probably because it moved and did stuff with fire), was the bicycle-turned-to-bellows that kept the fire going that would heat the metal rods. It’s a fairly simple, yet ingenious contraption that utilizes old materials with a little bit of engineering. The thing runs all day, every day too, so it’s made to last.

The chisel pictured below is a stone chisel, used in quarrying and squaring stones in the quarry’s dotting the country (most houses in Kenya are stone). They cost about 350/= ($6) to make, and sell for about 650/-= ($11).

Author: Erik Hersman

Erik is the owner of White African, a blog about technology and Africa. He is the co-founder of Zangu, a new web and mobile phone application that he hopes will change communication in Africa. AfriGadget is another web project of his, not that he doesn't have enough of those already...

15 thoughts on “Re-use in the (unofficial) Kenyan Ironworks Industry”

  1. Gotta love the ingenuity of Africans. I am always amazed at how my friends take what i would consider junk and make something useful or beautiful out of it.

    Also congrats on making Time’s top 50. I agree AfriGadget is a great site.

  2. What really amazes me is that they have so many anvils.
    They cost something like 500-600 € here in Finland..
    I’ve had to settle for a piece of old railroad track.

    I also recycle my raw material, because you can find quality steel just about everywhere and it makes me feel good to find uses for scrapped material.

  3. hah! Mikel, that’s hilarious. You know, maybe I should go record the sounds of the iron works for a little longer and provide just an audio sample for people to play with… ?

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