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African Ingenuity

AFRICAN INGENUITY: From Sardine-tin lamps to wooden fridges, These African “Frugal Innovators” Refuse To Be Limited By Their Circumstances

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Kouassi Bafounga

The discarded sardine tins, used mayonnaise jars and old tomato cans jumbled together on ‘s front porch look like a pile of trash someone forgot to throw out.

But retrieving a gleaming lid from the mess, he beams as if he has just found a piece of gold.

These everyday objects are treasure to the self-made inventor living in Bangui, the capital of war-ravaged Central African Republic, one of the world’s poorest countries.

In his tiny house of crumbling bricks, Bafounga collects what others throw away – and turns it into something useful.

He cuts shapes from tin cans and fixes them together with glass, string and a little petrol to produce storm-proof lanterns.

Bafounga is a shining example of the “frugal innovation” movement that has its roots in India, inspired by the notion of “jugaad”, a Hindi word meaning “improvising with whatever resources are available”. This trend of doing more with less has spread all over the world.

Bafounga devised his first lantern in Bambari when he was 15 and living with his older brother after his parents died. Unable to afford school fees and with time on his hands, he began tinkering with scrap materials.

Central African Republic’s second-largest city still has virtually no street lighting – perhaps not surprising in a country where little more than 10 percent of people had access to electricity in 2014, according to the World Bank.

Even in fortunate homes with one or two ceiling bulbs, the light often flickers off soon after sunset due to power cuts that plunge most of the town into darkness.

Now aged 35, making and selling lanterns remains Bafounga’s way to make a living. “They last until sunrise and cost 1,500 francs ($2.76) each,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Youths living in a camp for displaced people hammer out buckets to sell at the market from sheets of metal in Bambari, Central African Republic, January 22, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Inna Lazareva

“FAB LAB”

Last year, Bafounga was one of 11 winners in a “Fab Lab” innovation competition run by the French embassy and Alliance Française, a French cultural center in Bangui, with financing from the European Union’s Bêkou Trust Fund.

The finalists, chosen from more than 100 applicants, received assistance to develop their products into businesses.

The aim is to “move away from handouts and focus on empowering the Central Africans to control their own future”, said Dermot Hegarty of the Danish Refugee Council, which runs the scheme along with aid agencies ACTED and Mercy Corps.

“Frugal innovation” is important in a country like Central African Republic, Hegarty said.

“Access to goods and materials is exceptionally difficult, so you have to be able to use everything at your disposal,” he explained.

The inventions offer simple solutions to everyday problems.

They include a shelling machine for the much-loved peanuts sold at markets and a cheese-maker run by a women’s collective, over half of whom lost their husbands to war and disease.

CREATIVITY FROM CRISIS

In the United States, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also has a Fab Lab program runs a “fab academy” that includes classes over the internet, director Sherry Lassiter told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But Central African Republic – which ranked bottom of all countries in the latest Human Development Index, and has limited internet access – may seem an unlikely place for innovators.

The country has been riven by sectarian conflict since 2013 when Muslim-majority Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize, triggering a backlash by predominantly Christian and animist fighters.

Five years into the conflict, marked by successive waves of ethnic cleansing, the humanitarian situation is dire.

Almost 70 percent of families lack essentials such as clean drinking water, over three-quarters of the population live in poverty, and close to one-fifth have fled their homes amid violence, according to the World Bank and the United Nations.

Some say those pressures – combined with mass unemployment – are what drives people like Bafounga to be creative.

Joel Henri Baliba, inventor of the wooden fridge, stands inside his workshop in Bangui, Central African Republic, January 16, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Inna Lazareva

On the streets of Bambari where he grew up, a place where most inhabitants are displaced from their native villages, children play with toy trucks fashioned from sugar boxes and plastic bottle tops, held together with wooden toothpicks.

On a dusty roadside, two teenage boys sell lamps consisting of LED bulbs powered by batteries, made brighter by attaching them to old CDs that reflect the light.

Adolescents living in straw huts in a camp for displaced people in the middle of the city are busy hammering out buckets from curved sheets of metal, some ripped off homes by armed groups in the clashes that have rocked the area since 2014.

BUSINESS AMBITION

Joel Henri Baliba, 67, used to work in the airforce of the infamous self-crowned Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa, speaks Russian after a training stint in Ukraine in the 1970s, and is the proud inventor of the country’s first wooden refrigerator.

Though he retired in 2015, when a friend drew his attention to the innovation competition, he took up the challenge.

“A fridge is important for food conservation and also for medicine, but here most people don’t have fridges,” he said.

“The prices are very high, most people can’t afford one – that’s why I wanted to make something that costs less.”

By crafting the outer shell and interior from wood, which is plentiful, and using the usual refrigeration technology, Baliba can sell his product for up to 100,000 Central African francs ($184) cheaper than conventional fridges.

“We also allow people to pay in instalments,” he said, showing contracts signed with customers.

Before the competition, Baliba had never tried to invent anything. “But now I have more ideas!” he said.

Along with the other finalists, Baliba and Bafounga have received training in business and entrepreneurship.

Bafounga hopes to set up a permanent stall at a roadside market in central Bangui and employ others to help him, while Baliba already has a team of seven workers.

“It’s not quite a full salary, but we share what we earn,” Baliba said.

Children play with toy trucks, fashioned from sugar boxes, bottle tops and toothpicks, in Bambari, Central African Republic, January 22, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Inna Lazareva

CHEAPER, SIMPLER

Emma Hesselink of the Center for Frugal Innovation in Africa, based in the Netherlands, said sub-Saharan Africa is a region where the resourceful approach “is increasingly regarded as a valuable innovation strategy”.

The center has supported Dutch scientists to design thermometers adapted for use across Africa, based on research carried out in Uganda.

Sometimes the process leads to “reverse innovation”, where cheaper, simpler products aimed at the African market become popular in developed countries, Hesselink added.

One danger is that it could trigger a race to the bottom in terms of labor and quality standards, she cautioned.

For Baliba, conflict is another risk. “During the crisis, we lost everything,” he added, describing how an armed group broke into his home and stole his belongings.

But now that the situation in Bangui is calmer, he is keen to share his experiences to encourage and teach others.

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“You don’t really need a high level of knowledge – you just need to think of things that exist already and… how to improve them,” he said. “Everyone can do that.”

($1 = 543.2900 Central African CFA franc BEAC) (Reporting by Inna Lazareva, Editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

Click here to know about the eligibility and how you can claim your pa unemployment insurance.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is reporting on resilience as part of its work on zilient.org, an online platform building a global network of people interested in resilience, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Source: FEATURE-Sardine-tin lamps and wooden fridges: Meet Central …

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African Ingenuity

Ephraim Banadda is First African to Win Pius XI Medal

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Professor Banadda receiving the Pius XI Medal from Pope Francis.

Prof. Noble Banadda (R) receives his Pius XI Medal from His Holiness Pope Frances at the award ceremony on 12th November 2018 in the Vatican

Makerere Professor Ephraim Banadda has become the first African to win the Pius XI medal, scooping the 2018 award. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences gives the award to recognize outstanding scientific research.

Ephraim Banadda

Professor Banadda is a Ugandan scientist born in 1975. He was the first African to get a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. The institution is one of the oldest universities in the world—established in 1425. Professor Banadda also holds MSc in Processing Engineering from the same institution.

The professor took his undergraduate studies at the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania and holds BSc Food Science and Technology from the Tanzanian institution. At the age of 37, Noble Banadda was appointed a full professor at the University of Makerere.

The professor is the current Chair of the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. In 2013, the Professor became the youngest fellow to join the Uganda National Academy of Sciences. In 2015, Professor Banadda was among the seven Africans who qualified for the Next Einstein Fellowship.

The Pius XI medal recognizes Professor Banadda’s contributions in scientific research. The professor’s research interests are in biological systems, mathematical modeling, and renewable energy. In addition, the professor has authored over 80 peer-reviewed scientific papers and has over 1,1395 citations on Google Scholar.

Some of Professor’s Banadda’s known works and innovations include making diesel from plastic materials. The Professor also developed a solar irrigation system. In 2015, Professor Banadda launched the first Makerere University MV Mulimi, a cost-effective farmers’ tractor. A year later in 2016, the professor unveiled organic pesticide made from agricultural waste. These achievements demonstrate that the Professor has been at the forefront of agricultural innovation in Uganda.

The Pius XI Medal

The Pius XI medal was launched in 1961, and the academy has awarded 28 winners since the inception. The academy itself, however, was found in 1936 by the Holy Father Pius XI. In 1961, Pope John XXIII established the Gold medal to recognize young scientists under the age of 45. The award recognizes scientists who work free of economic, ideological, or political interests. Professor Banadda received his medal on 12 November 2018 at the Papal Wing at the Vatican.

The selection process for the Pius XI medal is a well-kept secret. The Vatican is the venue for the award ceremony, and the Pope himself awards the medal to the winner. Professor Banadda received his medal on 12 November 2018 at the Papal Wing at the Vatican. The 2018 Pius XI Medal recognizes Professor Banadda’s outstanding scientific research and publication.

The professor aspires to one day join the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, whose alumni include Galileo Galileo and several Nobel Prize winners in the fields of Physics, Medicine, Space engineering, Stem Biology, and Mathematics.

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African Ingenuity

Tanzania Blockchain Baby is the World’s First

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Tanzania blockchain baby

Tanzania blockchain baby is the first in the world and is making headlines all over. Africa is doing all it can to improve the lives of its citizens in all spheres of life.

Blockchain is a technology that allows distribution (and not copying) of digital information. It was originally created for digital currencies (cryptocurrencies) such as Bitcoin. A blockchain is simply a series of absolute or immutable data records. A bunch of computers not owned by any single entity manage these records. Each of these single blocks is bound to the other using cryptographic technology and principles, what is called a chain. In this way, a blockchain is a way of passing information from one point to another in a safe and automated manner. This is the technology on Tanzania blockchain baby.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.” – Don & Alex Tapscott, authors Blockchain Revolution (2016).

Blockchain Technology and Maternal Health

In an effort to improve access to good healthcare, Africa is making history in the world. The latest feat towards improving maternal health is Tanzania blockchain baby. It is difficult to connect blockchain technology and maternal health (leave alone a baby) but be as it may, Africa has a baby through blockchain. As if this is not amazing enough, blockchain does not have only one, but three babies in Tanzania.

The project by Irish AID: Tech and Dutch PharmAccess was initially funded to tackle controversies in the charitable industry in areas of equitable distribution of donations. In order to track the aid given to susceptible women, the project decided to use blockchain technology in facilitating proper distribution of this aid. Additionally, they used this technology to share important data and to streamline the entire support process. This record keeping technology for cryptocurrencies and bitcoins is a major breakthrough for the Tanzania blockchain baby.

Tanzania Blockchain Baby Technology

According to reports, Tanzania blockchain baby feat was born last July but has just come to the limelight. Aid:Tech is an Irish project and it seems it has finally found a humanitarian application of blockchain technology. The technology seeks to digitally identify pregnant women and provide them with the support and care they require in Tanzania. These digital IDs allow women to get proper access to vital elements such as folic acid. The technology also uses IDs to track the pregnancy progress from the initial women data entry to the blockchain, to delivery.

On 13th of July 2018, the first Tanzania blockchain baby was born. Two more followed this Tanzania blockchain bay a week later on 19th July 2018. This brought the blockchain babies to a total of three bundles of joy. Currently, the technology has made it possible for the mothers to get access to postnatal care as well as following up on doctor’s appointments and receiving needed medications. This distributed ledgers technology is lighting a new path towards better access to better maternal health in Africa.

How Blockchain Technology Works for Blockchain Babies   

According to recent reports by Forbes, the technology works like this;

  • Each pregnant woman receives a digital ID.
  • The digital ID entitles the woman to get access to important vitamins such as folic acid.
  • Additionally, the ID tracks the pregnancy progress through data added to the blockchain.
  • The tracking starts after the woman is first registered, through medical appointments to birth.
  • Currently, the system also allows women to receive postnatal care and follow-up doctor’s appointments as needed.

This Tanzania blockchain baby technology project has well-meaning goals for infants and mothers in Tanzania. The country has high infant mortality rates that currently stand at 556 deaths per 100,000 live births. In addition to other healthcare challenges, Tanzania also has difficulties in getting fund donations from well-wishers to deserving women. For these two reasons, the project was established and it is working quite well.

Joseph Thompson co-founded AID:Tech in order to provide more transparency in the distribution of aid to deserving people. The idea came as a result of his previous encounter with aid distribution fraud. The organization made the first successful attempt at aid distribution to Syrian refuges in Lebanon in 2015 using blockchain technology. The system encountered fraud in food vouchers where wrongful beneficiaries would benefit. The system invalidated these vouchers.

Global Recognition

The United Nations named AID:Tech one of their ten global Sustainable Development Goal Pioneers for 2017. Additionally, many private investors got interested in blockchain technology and how it can deliver important aid. For this reason, the organization drew interest from private investors such as Enterprise Ireland, TechStars, SGInnovate and American backer Jason Calacanis. The list also includes Rockefeller and Expo2020.

Despite immense global recognition, it is the Tanzania blockchain baby that elevates the project to international limelight and popularity.

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African Ingenuity

One of The Oldest Tribes In Africa Was Kicked Out Of Their Homes And Here Is What Happened

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Displaced Batwa Tribe

The Batwa tribe is one of the oldest in Africa. They originally resided in the rainforests of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. They survived many decades through hunting and gathering. However, in the 1990s, the government evicted them from the rainforest leaving them homeless. This and subsequent events threw them into poverty.

The actions of the governments of the three countries were prompted by the need to create a national park. The national parks helped to preserve the population of endangered gorillas in the Virunga Mountains. Since then, the population of the gorillas has grown to 880 in 2018 from 284 in 1981. Tourists now pay a huge amount to spend one hour with the apes. The parks have become a huge money spinner for the East African countries. However, the Batwa tribe paid the price.

A glimmer of hope for eighteen Batwa families

Volcanoes Safaris, a luxury lodge operator was drawn to the plight of the Batwa tribe condemned to squat in Uganda’ farmland. The founder of Volcanoes Safari, Praveen Moman was touched by their appalling livelihood. Moman first met the Batwa tribe when he opened the Mount Gahinga Lodge in 1997 on the outskirts of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The encounter sparked their relationship.

Through the Volcanoes Safari Partnership Trust, Moman gifted ten acres of land to the tribe.  When asked about what motivated his actions, Moman said,

“Generally, we want to support people and improve their livelihood in relation to the work we do at our lodges. It was a bunch of rocks on which they built little shacks of twigs, of tarpaulins, of cardboard—whatever they could get.”

All the material used for the construction of the new village were donations from the guests at Mount Gahinga lodge and the Volcanoes Safari Trust. However, Uganda-based Studio FH architects’ contribution was in terms of supervision services and free designs.

A glimpse into the new settlement for the Batwa tribe

The village consists of eighteen houses each measuring twenty square meters. Each of the homes boasts of a bedroom, common room and a covered veranda which also serves as the kitchen. Eucalyptus poles with bamboo crisscross form a grid and make up the walls. However, the roofing consists of metal sheets with papyrus coating.

Batwa Village Home

The builders took some steps to ensure the safety of these eco-friendly homes. First, the buildings have compact spacing for wind protection as well as to conserve farming lands. Secondly, the verandas face opposite of the direction of strong winds from the volcanoes. To ensure proper sanitation, two buildings containing latrines lie in the slopes on one side of the village.

The Batwa tribe village also has a community center on a 100 square meter space. Consequently, the dome-shaped community center is intended to be used for multiple purposes that involves public gathering. The official opening of the village was in May 2018.

Batwa tribe village community center

The 2018 Emerging Architecture Awards

The contributions of Studio FH Architects to the Batwa tribe also earned them a place on the 2018 Emerging Architecture Awards list. The prestigious award instituted in 1999 honors young designers who create a positive impact in their environment through architectural designs.

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