In a post in February, I explained why I have started the #NOCTechAfrica project which is almost coming to the end. My objective with this series is to show another side of technology in Africa, different from Kenya, South Africa and other English speaking countries that most people hear about.
It’s about discovering new horizons and new talents in some of the smallest French speaking countries in Africa who are making things happen rather than waiting for the perfect conditions to get started. I was inspired by these young talents and their creativity to transform their challenges into opportunities.
Electronic waste for example, is one of the biggest problems in technology today in the West, which throw away 40 million tonnes per year or an equivalent of 800 laptops every second. This e-waste dumped in Africa becomes the material for innovation for some creative minds.
Togo-based maker space, WoeLab, has built the first African 3D printer using e-waste collected from some of the largest dumps of old computers and electronic equipment in Ghana. The 3D printer, WAFATE, has received many international recognitions. Some experts think that 3D printing could be the trigger of the ‘Next Industrial Revolution’ in the same way that the steam machine has impacted the industrial revolution.
For Africa, being able to launch a new consumption model based on 3D printing could transform the continent in the same way that mobile technology is transforming the lives of the population.
What if instead of importing cars, Africa was able to print its own? What if Africans were able to print prosthesis and replace broken arms or legs? And what if anyone could print the drugs they need to cure their illness?
This science fiction scenario could become a reality. And perhaps sooner than we think!
Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou, a Togolese Architect, Anthropologue, and social entrepreneur had an original vision when he created Woelab, a ‘democracy technology space’ in 2012 for a smart city project. The idea is to change things one kilometre around that space and develop technological projects where people from all background could co-create.
He was inspired by the hacker movement, which he says, has something African in its DNA. From a fablab, the space has now evolved into an ambitious project to revolutionise the society with the ‘Low High-tech’ concept, using recyclable material to create high tech products.
Members of the community are now creating computers using Jerri cans and used motherboard, drones using ripped dvd players from computers and the first global map of drinking water.
In Cotonou, Benin, I’ve met another vibrant tech community, Etrilabs and the co-founder of TEKXL, a combination of incubation, acceleration and venture investment. Ulrich Sossou, is a software engineer and entrepreneur who loves solving problems. For him the biggest problem in Africa and specifically francophone countries, is the lack of education for young entrepreneurs both tech and commercial education. His aim is to put together teams of young aspiring entrepreneurs to work on an idea and learn by doing. They develop a viable product and then become start-ups.
The reality of being a tech entrepreneur is not easy for anyone but this is even more acute in Togo and in Benin. Access to internet and high speed broadband is still prohibitive for regular people, the financial support to start and grow business is scarce and women involvement in tech is still lagging due to cultural habits.
Perhaps the hacker movement which has inspired Sénamé’s philosophy of collaboration could hold another key for Africa. Hacking is also about modifying the features of a system to achieve a new goal. Which means that, Africa can experiment with emerging technology, new models and innovative ideas to hack its way to development, and repeat what has happened with mobile technology and MPESA, without going through the stages of scaling the use of landlines.
If it has succeeded in leapfrogging once, it’s possible to do the same in other areas as there is very few legacy systems.
But to fulfil the continent’s potential and get a vibrant tech scene in Africa, the government has a key role to play. The continent is also counting on its diaspora to get to the promised land! And many individuals and organisations from the diaspora are getting organised, encouraged by the initiatives of some governments to get them involved in the development of their countries.
And a key group that needs to be at the discussion table is the younger generation, to contribute to design the solutions that they will use tomorrow. The problem according to Lallé Nadjagou Yentaguine, a 22-yo member of Woelab community, is that “they don’t teach our kids to conceive ideas, they only teach them to learn blindly. Instead of teaching then critical skills, analysis and focus on the essential skills useful for their daily lives, they only train them to be like robots.”
He urges his fellow young buddies to believe in their wildest dreams and not being distracted by naysayers.
Ultimately the tech revolution in Africa will take off when a large number of countries on the continent will design and implement the right digital strategies, enable a thriving ecosystem with large scale innovation hubs and invest in its human capital.
Watch the full video documentary here.
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