Friday, 21 August 2009

Innovation Galore at Maker Faire Africa(MFA)

It is undisputed that technology forms the bedrock of socio-economic development in any society. This is so because technology provides the means through which raw natural resources are transformed into objects of value that provide monetary benefits to the innovator. Increased economic gains, which are likely consequences of technological breakthroughs, directly promote investment in agriculture, education and health: key sectors of social progress in today's world. This is the reason why technology holds a special place in my heart and is a recurring theme for this blog.

In earlier blog posts, I wrote about open source in Africa, African software entrepreneurs, Barcamp Ghana, PathGhana website and My Ghanaian Name facebook application. Today's post summarises my observations on the first Maker Faire Africa(MFA), dubbed "a celebration of African ingenuity, innovation and invention." The event was hosted by AITI-KACE, which is fast becoming the venue of choice for technology conferences here in Accra, Ghana. Watching the exhibitions sent a few thoughts through my mind that I would like to share with you.

There is Ingenuity in Africa

The numerous exhibitions at the fair portrayed the diversity of innovation that is going on the African continent. The solutions offered by the innovators also varied in complexity: from a simple analogue blogging solution, through a windmill and a metal fabrication device to complicated robotic devices. The list is endless. What is really significant about all these displays is the relevance of the various inventions to various African communities. William Kamkwamba's windmill, made from scrap materials, for example, is solving a real need, in this case, lack of electricity in his home village in rural Malawi.

Initiative Makes a Difference

There is no gainsaying that Africa's future socio-economic decelopment lies in the hands of the people of the continent themselves. Worldwide, countries that have scaled the developmental hurdle are those whose leaders and citizens "took the bull by the horns" and implemented systematic reforms to steer their national progress in the right direction. Immediate post-independence gains chalked by countries like Ghana were spearheaded by leaders who were ready to make a difference. This same make point was reitirated at the Maker Faire as the organisers are Africans (and people with strong African ties) who are determined to see a maker mentality take root on the African continent. Kudos to the organising team (made up of Emeka Okafor, Erik Hersman, Lars Hasselblad Torres, Mark Grimes, Nii Simmonds, Emer Beamer and Henry Barnor), sponsors and all volunteers of the event. Their efforts are very important because Maker Faire has been a practical demonstration of technological accomplishments possible on the continent, though on a small scale.

The Future Lies With The Young

This point has been made time and again. It really hit home again because there were quite a number of exhibitions from young people, brimming with excitement and energy. Also, most of the people I met at the fair were young people who are excited about technology and willing to pick up the necessary skills so as to ultimately bring about positive change to their African communities. The likes of William Kamkwamba (inventor of the electricity-generating windmill), Johannes Thomas Arthur (producer of furniture using plasitic water bottles) and the Accra Polytechnic Fm team are worthy role models for African youth to emulate. Their creative minds give hope to a continent often tagged as dark and backward. This resonates US president Barack Obama's message to African youth when he visited the continent.

Overall, it was interesting watching the Maker Faire exhibitions and speaking with great people like Dr. Kwesi Botchwey (yes, the former finance minister), Erik Hersman (White African and Afrigadget), Oluniyi David Ajao (Web4Africa), Miquel Hudin (Maneno), Wayan Vota(Inveneo), Louisa (Butterfly works) and all the awesome exhibitors. My only regret though is that i couldn't participate in the workshops because of my packed weekend. I have taken many pictures of the exhibitions and people I met there and would be posting them in the days to come.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

My Ghanaian name is Kwaku, what is yours?

Last Friday, 24th July, guest blogger Edward Amartey-Tagoe made a post on PathGhana's new initiative, PathGhana Friday, which is aimed at promoting tourism in Ghana to higher heights. This development has been further boosted by the release of a facebook application by the PathGhana team. This facebook application, called "My Ghanaian Name", helps users to know their Ghanaian names based on the week day on which they've been born.

The application is the brain child of PathGhana lead developer Christian Kojo Tamakloe. Christian studied facebook's popularity and infered that developing such an application on the facebook platform would attract many users and thus promote Ghanaian tourism.

Ghana's unique naming system is widely used among the country's diverse ethnic groups. This special naming system gives special names to people based on the specific day of the week on which they are born and their gender. For example, I am a Wednesday born so the various variations of my name are Kwaku, Kweku and Korku. These names also have certain specific connotations. According to the application, "Wednesday borns are mischievous, vicarious, vigilant and daring. They are usually fully in control of every situation, do not want to be told what to do (some what know-it-alls), spontaneous, vibrant and cordial. Be sure not to cross their paths though". Visitors to Ghana are usually intrigued by these names and therefore adopt them for themselves. My Ghanablogging colleague, Kajsa has one such name. Foreigners, who do not know their week days would find this application very useful.

So, go ahead click here, give it a try and forward your feedback to the PathGhana team at Be sure to let all your folks know about this cool new app!

Picture: Yours truly with Christian Tamakloe

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Ghana’s Former President Joins World Food Programme to Knock out Global Hunger

Picture credit: WFP & Alessandro Recalcati

What does a former Ghanaian president have in common with a world class footballer, an elite long distance athlete, a famous actress or a former US senator?

The answer to this question was unveiled to me when I received an email from the Online Marketing Coordinator of World Food Programme (WFP), Abby Ravera, requesting me to inform my readership about the contribution of Ghana's immediate past President, Mr. John Agyekum Kufuor, to the global fight against hunger. Mr. Kufuor joins forces with Ricardo Kaka (former FIFA footballer of the year), Paul Tergat (Marathon champion), George McGovern (former US Senator) and Drew Barrymore (actress) to ask world leaders and other stakeholders to fill the "red cup" and put to rest the scourge of hunger among large swathes of the world's population.

At the induction ceremony in London, the former president indicated his desire of eradicating hunger among school children. He said that "ensuring that every child has proper nutrition has to be the goal of every world leader; I hope to inspire them all to strive for this goal." This welcome development comes as no surprise to many since the former president was in Rome, Italy in 2008 when the WFP launched its "fill the cup campaign" to provide school meals for hungry school children. Back home, his administration rolled out the school feeding programme to provide free meals for pupils in deprived areas of Ghana.

Mr. J.A. Kufuor and some Ghanaian school kids at the launch of WFP's "fill the up" campaign in Rome Italy. Picure taken from the WFP website

Mr. Kufuor received a lot of praise for his involvement. WFP Executive Director, Rosette Sheeran said that "John Kufuor not only talks the talk, but walks the walk; Ghana is a leader in nourishing its children and Ambassador Kufuor can be a leader in getting others to follow his good work."

Former President Kufuor and WFP's fight against global hunger is justified by the knowledge that over 1 billion people are either suffering from harsh, raw hunger or malnutrition of some sort. Key facts about the WFP school feeding programme that I found here suggest that the WFP is only able to feed about one-third of the 66 million hungry school children worldwide. This situation really requires urgent action.

Governments of affected countries should take the initiative of rolling out or strengthening national programmes to complement the efforts of the WFP and alleviate the plight of their people. More lasting solutions to the hunger problem must be explored, like technological innovations that would allow farmers to grow crops during drought, or assistance to beneficiaries in the form of skill acquisition, rather than always giving out fish. What is the WFP doing about this? Individuals can also help by contributing to the WFP, volunteering on WFP programmes or spreading the word like I'm doing. J. Another cool way that I found to be helpful is to simply play this game. Imagine having fun, learning and doing charity work at the same time! That feels good, doesn't it?

Ayeeko to the Gentle Giant and the WFP!