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Amplifying African Ingenuity

Next week ushers in this year’s Maker Faire Africa which celebrates the spirit of African ingenuity, innovation and invention. I recently interviewed one of its founder’s Emeka Okafor for Design Observer: Tinkers, Hackers, Farmer, Crafters. He spoke with conviction of

“the interchange between the emerging global dynamics and local inspiration in Africa. This speaks to a far-reaching conversation in which the questions are posed: How do we regain our creativity? How do we redefine what we mean by a society that is advanced?

He went on to describe the experimental platform which is neither a science fair, conference nor trade show – but which rather values all makers who have uniquely responded to a need with an adaptive sensibility.

“If you place a tinkerer who works on the side of the road next to an Ivy League engineer, dynamics are bound to get interesting. Folks begin to recognize, reassess and remix value… This is something I came to appreciate in curating TEDGlobal in Africa. When you place the biochemist next to the poet or the visual artist next to the physicist, you can rely on synergies springing from their shared curiosity.”

Last year’s MFA featured a potent mix of inventiveness from robotics through to black-smithing and agricultural innovations – punctuated by recycling endeavours and global-local craft mash-ups. The event had it’s own locally fabricated radio station and endearingly analogue black-board blogger, Alfred Sirleaf.

This year’s MFA promises another round of multidisciplinary ingenuity. Digital fabrication is set to feature alongside artisanal eyewear. Workshops will share solar technology skills with young people and mobile hacking tips with all ages. The event will also see the African launch of Steve Daniels’ book Making Do: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy. Steve’s rigorously insightful book provides a comprehensive exploration of jua kali – informal artisans who work in industrious clusters across Kenya:

“Wandering through winding alleys dotted with makeshift worksheds, one can’t help but feel clouded by the clanging of hammers on metal, grinding of bandsaws on wood and the shouts of workers making sales. But soon it becomes clear that this cacophony is really a symphony of socio-economic interactions that form what is known as the informal economy. In Kenya, engineers in the informal economy are known as jua kali, Swahili for “hot sun”, because they toil each day under intense heat and with limited resources. But despite these conditions, or in fact because of them, the jua kali continuously demonstrate ingenuity and resourcefulness in solving problems…

… Steve Daniels illuminates the dynamics of the sector to enhance our understanding of African systems of innovation… The study examines how the jua kali design, build and manage though theoretical discussions, visualizations of data and stories of successful and struggling entrepreneurs.”

Maker Faire Africa promises to shine a light on a wealth of African talent and turn up the volume on their diverse voices of inventiveness.

Related posts:
Indian Grassroots Innovation
Creative Waves through Collaboration

[Images – 1 + 2: From White African’s Maker Faire Africa set on Flickr, 3: from the portfolio of C. Kaibiru, 4: cover detail of Steve Daniels’ book Making Do]

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