Miniature versions of vehicles are as popular with kids in Cameroon as anywhere else. Adult craftsmen across the continent use materials such as wire, beads and recycled cans to create toy bicycles, trucks and airplanesmany of which transcend the level of children’s toys and are nothing short of art objects. Indeed, some of these creations are produced for corporate clients and international buyers.
No less ingenious and fascinating are toys created by and for kids themselves, usually from the simplest of materials and tools. This includes items like toy tractors (Kenya) and SUVs (Uganda) made from recycled plastic bottles.
In Cameroon, one such popular toy crafted by kids is a ‘remote controlled’ car or ATV. These are often built from discarded flip-flops (slippers), sardine tins, bamboo or raffia palm, electrical conduit (pipe), rubber and bits of string. A variation on this theme that incorporates a split bamboo steering column and a full-sized wire steering wheel was blogged by Steve in the northwest of the country.
It’s not difficult to spot toy cars like this being piloted by kids in Cameroonthe trick is usually being able to catch up with them to photograph one. A big advantage of this design is its ability to handle rough terrain when being driven at speed. The bamboo frame, chunky tires and rubber fasteners suck up bumps in the road like a 4WD Toyota. The proud builder of this R/C all-terrain vehicle paused long enough to demonstrate his creation for me.
Our friend Bill Zimmerman, a technologist who runs a startup un-incubator called LimbeLabs in Cameroon, posted this interesting story on his blog about a teacher who makes an extra income by fabricating gadgets out of Bamboo.
Avid readers may remember the Bamboo Bike project, so the idea of using Bamboo as an alternative and sustainable material isn’t that far fetched. In fact, we’re glad that someone took the initiative and ventured into this field with so many different products at the same time. Bamboo Magic, really. Make sure not to miss out the video!
“I had an opportunity to stop by the 2009 South West Regional Agro-Pastoral Show, an annual exhibition for local farmers and craftsmen, here in Limbe this afternoon. The event was held on a community field ringed by exhibition booths overflowing with every imaginable vegetable, fruit and live animal cultivated and raised in the southwest region of Cameroon. In addition, there were a number of innovators with homemade products and gadgets crafted from local materials.
Amid all the displays, one guy stood apart with some creations that can only be described as a near perfect marriage of form, function, green design and a borderline obsession with bamboo. Lekuama Ketuafor is the proprietor of Bamboo Magic, a one-man cottage industry he’s started to supplement his work as a teacher.
Using a set of simple hand tools, glue, varnish, skill and loads of patience, Lekuama finds ways of using bamboo—a ubiquitous, low-cost, renewable material—in ways many people have never imagined. Judging from the size of the crowd gathered around his booth, I suspect few Cameroonians had seen anything quite like Lekuama’s creations before.
Among the intricately decorated bamboo shoes , vest, palm wine calabash, cowboy hat, clocks and so on, I was immediately attracted to two incredibly cool electronics-related pieces: a bamboo covered Nokia phone and an attractive and functional laptop case. Here’s a video of Lekuama, dressed appropriately in head-to-toe bamboo wear, demonstrating these items:
The attention to detail on the laptop case is impressive, right down to the external USB port access, shoulder strap attachments, carry handle, magnetic clasps, internal elastic keeper strap and red felt lining. And how about that chic mobile phone?
Due to the time intensive nature of his craft, Lekuama makes these items for sale in very small quantities. However, his dream is to establish a training center where he can transfer his skills to young Cameroonians and build a community of artisan microentrepreneurs.”
Obviously, agricultural shows in Africa are a great resource for AfriGadgets.
I was driving down a street in Nairobi today and did a double-take when I saw a man standing by a motorized bicycle. One u-turn (of questionable legality) later and I was chatting with Samuel Magethe, a local carpenter who does house calls. Apparently, he usually carries his toolbox and wood supplies on the back of the bicycle, though he didn’t have them with him today. He has used the bike for 2 years and says that it’s a great help to him as he gets older and has problems with the hills.
I talked with Samuel for a while and found out that he had bought the engine and bicycle in downtown Nairobi. Since I had to go downtown anyway, I decide to hunt out the seller and see if I could get the background story on where the motors come from and the specs on them.
It turns out that the engines, and bicycles, are imported from the ADTEC Corporation in Japan. (As an aside, it appears that Adtec motorcycles are part of the big influx of Asian motorcycles being used as taxis in E. Africa.) It’s a 48cc 2-stroke engine that has a top speed of 40Kph (25mph). The tank can hold 2 litres of fuel and they claim that it gets 70 kilometres per litre.
You can buy the bicycle plus engine for 15,000 Ksh ($200) or just the motor for 10,000 Ksh ($135).
The company that sells them in Kenya, Adventure Technology Company Ltd, has their main office in downtown Nairobi, where they had their last two bikes that weren’t sold. In 2009 they imported 500 bicycles and sold them in their 13 branches across the country. The branch manager, Julius Lumumba, tells me it’s a good business, and they sell very quickly – especially up country in places like Kakamega, Bunguma and Kisumu.
[Note: I forgot my cameras today, so I just had my iPhone to do the pictures/video with, thus the lower-res, sorry.]
I was in Lamu in June and came upon a metal workshop tucked away behind the front row of buildings on the main path from Lamu Town to Shela. Inside were two blacksmiths, Adam Marabu and Abdul Ahmed, working diligently at creating a new anchor. What caught my eye though, was the bellows. They had taken old cement bags and hooked them up to metal pipes in the floor that fed air into the make-shift furnace.
Here’s a short video with some footage of them at work:
One of my favorite stories on AfriGadget was the other unique bellows I found, this time in Nairobi, made out of an old bicycle. Both of these go examples go to show what can be done with very little. It’s about improvising what you have and overcoming a challenge.
Adam and Abdul make all types of items, but they told me that their main products are anchors, which range from small to large (2000-5000/= or $26-65) and, chisels and coconut shellers. They create a lot of the small metal pieces on the local dhows, and also make doors and window frames for the homes in the town. Really, they can make just about anything that you desire, like experienced metal workers anywhere in the world. What’s amazing is what they do it with.
With one 5 liter bag of chlorine, and a device that costs $3 to build, you can clean 100,000 liters of water.
Here at Maker Faire Africa is Killian Deku, a Ghanaian working in the IDDS program, has created a ball valve chlorine doser with the help of his team mates from India, the US and Tanzania. Their only real costs were the ball valve and the time taken to create the bamboo structure that holds it. The one variable cost is the bag of chlorine used to cleanse the water.
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