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.

1 comment:

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