I’ve written about handmade tools in Africa before, but it didn’t generate a ton of interest, so I’ve not followed-up on it very much in my travels. I was really happy to see that another person was intrigued by this though, Kevin Kelly has a post where Tom Ritchey, master bike frame builder, sent him pictures of hand-made tools he spotted at bike shops in Rwanda.
Fabrication is an important skill in developing nations. Along the whole process you see reuse taking place, even down to the tools being used to create the items in question.
A Kenyan micro-entrepreneur recently told me:
In the sixties, during the space race between Russia and the U.S.A the Russian Engineers, when told there was no more money for the budget philosophically said “now we have no money then we can think” and they were able to be tremendously creative when compared to the Americans despite the limited funds at their disposal. This is the same approach I use in my initiatives.
As I’m not the only one who thinks these are pretty cool, I’m digging into the AfriGadget Flickr Group to pull out a picture that I never published here on the blog. These are small engine repair tools built to work on motorcycles, generators and lawnmowers (among other things):
And finally, a video of Bernard, one of the local small engine repair guys in Nairobi (who’s shop has since disappeared) talking about how he makes some of the tools:
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).
Jim is a musician, videographer and member of the Kenyan animation trio Just-A-Band. He needed a consistent light source for his video shoots, and as he puts it…
1. the sun is REALLY powerful
2. but very unpredictable
So he decided to create his own lighting equipment from easily available components that included:
1. 2 cardboard boxes (20/-)
2. 15 bulb holders (approx. 150/- each)
3. energy saving bulbs (the 23-watt ‘cool daylight’ types – 450/- each. Ouch.)
4. a roll of aluminium foil (approx. 200/-)
5. lots of cellotape/masking tape
With the help of his friend Kevin who is an electrician, he went from this
Contrast his total cost of approximately 7000 Kenya shillings (about $113) with Tungsten lights being sold in Nairobi, Kenya for 20,000 Ksh (about $320), this is a neat DIY project that not only saved him some money, but also shows the African Ingenuity we are always excited about.
The BBC is running a story on a young inventor, 23-year old Daniel Sheridan, who has designed a teeter-totter (see-saw) that can be used to power school classrooms in Africa. His ultimate goal is to see a whole playground of energy-creating equipment.
“The current need for electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is staggering. Without power development is extremely difficult. The potential for this product is huge and the design could be of benefit to numerous communities in Africa and beyond.”
The idea came about after travels to East Africa, where he taught at a school and was inspired by the students. Daniel developed the see-saw power design as part of his final year at Coventry University. He has calculated that five to 10 minutes use on the see-saw could generate enough electricity to light a classroom for an evening.
What would be more interesting would be to see this idea built out with local supplies, as Daniel is going to be doing soon in Uganda. Then, with the knowledge learned there, see if it could fall into the same model of micro-entrepreneurial devices that we see with the KickStart water pumps. Speaking of which, this also reminds me of the PlayPumps idea, which also has a lot of potential.
Daniel states, “The unique selling point of this product is that it is not intended as a profit-making design.” I can only hope that he means this as profit for him. Profit making on the ground by Africans of this type of design could be crucial for its long-term success.
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