Maker: Show and Tell

[Note: Pictures will be on the Maker Faire Africa Flickr group. All images by AfriGadget are CC-by licensed for anyone to use anywhere they like.]

Maker Faire Africa: Ghana 2009

This morning at Maker Faire Africa, after a short introduction by Nii Simmonds and Emeka Okafor, the team (MFA sponsors) from AndSpace Labs have been moderating a “show and tell” by some of the Makers (which is what we’re calling those who are demo’ing at the event).

William Kamkwamba: Windmills

First up was William Kamkwamba, who is really seen as a success story of this type of microentrepreneur or innovator in Africa. His windmills and the story behind it are an inspiration for many here, especially the aspiring makers with good ideas and their first prototypes. There is now a book, a documentary and a foundation all set up around the inspired story of windmills from Malawi.

The crowd LOVES William. The Africans are so inspired by him due to it being done on his own without a bunch of outside help. This means from the expats who do a lot of good work of course, which is a good point. How much more exciting is it to see home-grown ingenuity and innovation making it big than it is if it’s imported in from overseas?

IDDS: Ghana

The International Develpment Design Summit has been going on for the last 4 weeks in Kumasi, Ghana. Two members of the team came up to talk about one of the devices that they created from local materials, that will be here at the show as well. It’s a device that allows you to store your food so that it doesn’t spoil as quickly. To see more of the IDDS work, here are the final presentations from earlier this week.

Pat Delaney: Multimachine

“You can have no industrial progress without machine tools.” He’s here to show how you can start from nothing except a pipe with three holes in it and an old/broken engine block, and create a universal machine tool. His is called the Multimachine. Due to weight constraints he couldn’t bring a complete machine, so he brought the rudimentary drills and 200 DVDs full of instructions to the event.

Finally, Pat makes a call for someone to create cheaply and widely available welding glasses. Why? Because so many people in Africa are using sunglasses to weld, but it ruins your eyes in 3-4 years and you can’t weld anymore. This is terrible due to it taking 10 years to become a master welder.

Building Dominic Wanjihu’s Food Dryer

Dominic Wanjihia is from Kenya, and he’s here at Maker Faire Africa in Ghana because of the innovative designs and solutions that he comes up with for problems that ordinary Africans face. We had profiled one of his earlier inventions, an evapocooler for camel milk in Somalia, last year.

He’s been in Accra this last week working in the timber yards in Makola building a food dryer and a food cooler to show at the event. Both of them use air, and the dryer takes advantage of the heat from the sun. More detailed posts will be coming on them, but here’s a few shots of him and the carpenters building the devices.

Dominic Wanjihia in Accra building his food dryer

Plans for the food dryer

Eben building the food racks

Lumber yard in Makola

AfriGadget pictures from around Accra, Ghana

I’ve been having a great time in Accra, but not nearly enough time to spend on the details of every cool product or invention that I see. In the meantime, here are a couple pictures from around Ghana that will whet your appetite for what is coming up in the next week:

A trash collector on a trike

Trash Collecting Trike in Accra Ghana

A roadside motorcycle mechanic

Motorcycle mechanic's shop

Carrying tables and chairs

Carrying tables and chairs

Hauling “trucks”

Push truck

A truck being pushed

Mechanics and Tailors

This is part of an ongoing series of posts on the FLAP bag project, a collaborative effort by Timbuk2, Portable Light and Pop!Tech. We at AfriGadget are helping to field-test these bags that have solar power and lighting on them, and get interviews of the individuals using them.

I’d like to upload some of the video from today’s first big day in Ghana, but bandwidth considerations make that a little difficult right now. Instead, I’ll give an overview and show some pictures.


Henry Addo is a colleague of mine at Ushahidi, and he’s also the Ghanaian representative who is helping me hand out the bags, do interviews and have fun… He’s also a motorcycle rider, so I made sure to pack my helmet before leaving. We set off in search of likely prospects for both the FLAP bag project and Maker Faire Africa.

Me and Henry out on the motorcycles in Accra Ghana

I started out on a 250cc Honda streetbike that made me feel a little like Bowzer in Mario Kart. Fortunately, our first stop of the day was at Henry’s local motorcycle street mechanic at which I saw a beautiful 600cc Yamaha Terere being fixed up. The owner happened to be there, and he was game for a 2-day swap (with about $10/day thrown in for good measure…)!

This was also the first place that we started showing off one of the assembled bags to gauge the kind of reaction that we would receive from people. We didn’t do any formal interviews here, but had a good time of questions and people came up with some interesting thoughts on the use of the bag.

Henry Addo explaining the FLAP bag to mechanics in Accra Ghana

The head mechanic absolutely loved it, recounting the many times he was traveling around Ghana and needed light at night to fix his motorcycles.

The real estate businessman wanted to know the cost, thinking he would buy one right now for $100 from us (for bragging rights). Though he thought there was a market for them in Accra, that the real buyers would be found in rural villages.

The used-goods businessman wondered what would happen to the solar system if you tried to wash it to clean the bag. I didn’t have an answer, but I said that I thought it would be durable.


We ran all over town trying to find tailors of adequate skill to assemble the bags that had come in pieces. It turned out being a little bit of a challenge, but things took a great turn for the better and we found 2-for-1 going on in a market. Elijah and Mohammed both traditionally use West African cloth to make both jackets and bags, however, they were game for this challenge (especially as it scored them a free bag).

Tailor shop in Accra Ghana

Both tailors spent a great deal of time examining the textiles used and they made comments about the quality level of the bag. Interestingly, they didn’t think they would use the bags that much themselves, but they did think that their wives would find them useful.

I did full interviews with both of them, and will upload those in the near future. Henry will be going back to them in 2-3 weeks to see what has happened with the bags and how they are being used.

Interviewing Elijah in Ghana

Tailor interviews - Ghana

Knowing that we wouldn’t find too many others that could make the bags from the pieces we had, we also wanted to challenge them to something even more interesting. We asked what they would do if we gave them a basic portable light kit (2 solar panels instead of 1) and tried to make a bag with it, using traditional cloth elements and no set design pattern. Both decided to give that a try as well, with the caveat that some material would be hard to find, and we’ll report back on the outcome.

Maker Faire Africa: Ghana, Aug 13-15

Maker Faire Africa (MFA) is a new event celebrating the innovation, ingenuity and invention within Africa – happening August 13-15 of this year in Accra, Ghana.

Maker Faire Africa in Ghana

We came at this event from a specific angle – we mixed the types of individuals who show up on AfriGadget and Timbuktu Chronicles, and the ethos of the greater MAKE community, all with the blessings of the good folks at Maker Faire. The dates were chosen to coincide with Amy Smith’s and MIT’s International Development and Design Summit (IDDS), which will run for 3 weeks before MFA, also in Ghana.

As Emeka puts it:

The aim of a Maker Faire-like event is to create a space on the continent where Afrigadget-type innovations, inventions and initiatives can be sought, identified, brought to life, supported, amplified, propagated, etc. Maker Faire Africa asks the question, “What happens when you put the drivers of ingenious concepts from Mali with those from Ghana and Kenya, and add resources to the mix?”

How You can Support MFA

get a Maker Faire Africa badge!First off, help spread the word! Let people know where and when it will be. Share the link to the site, grab a badge, blog it.

Second, help us find sponsors. If you know an organization or individual who would like to support this amazing event, put us in touch with them. It could be monetary, or it could be donating some cool gadgets, gear, tools or devices for people to hack on while there. (example idea: we’d love to get some LEGO Mindstorm kits for the local high schools).

Third, come. If you have the time and ability, we’d love to have you, your ideas and your gadgets at MFA.

The Team

In my role as founder of AfriGadget, I’m part of the organizing team to put together Maker Faire Africa, joined by my an excellent group of people including:

Want to get involved yourself? Get in touch!