Kenya's First Makerspace Helps Africa to Industrialize
Tom Spendlove posted on December 19, 2017 |
Kamau Gachigi presents some of the projects at Nairobi's Fab Lab.

Kamau Gachigi tells us that by 2050 the population in Africa will double from today, and at that time one in four people will be in Africa. Kenya’s economic development plan is called Vision2030 and focuses on the industrialization of African society. The lack of engineers on the African continent is a problem because Kamau says that engineers are needed for industrialization. Many African engineering students work at accounting jobs while in school, and eventually become engineers working at banks or accounting firms. Gachigi’s TED Talk Success stories from Kenya’s first makerspace details some of the issues that Kenya is working through as an emerging industrial society.

After training in the UK and US, Kamau returned to the University of Nairobi as faculty, and saw many cases where engineering students had great ideas without the tools to implement the ideas. He convinced the government to develop a Fab Lab and gave the students a chance to do theory and practical exercises in the same place. The makerspace was also open to the public so a mix of people were pushing innovation in Nairobi.

One interesting problem Gachigi found was that students who spent the most time in the makerspace began to fail their classes. After investigating he found that these students developed skills in making and went into the city and offered their skills for money, instead of concentrating on their school work.

The makerspace works on a subscription basis and two tiers of customers work there. The lower tier might use crude methods to make metal or wood tools, and are upgrading to the makerspace’s machines. The higher tier uses the space’s robots to cut sheet metal for Isuzu trucks, helping to supply components for General Motors.

Kamau Gachigi is a great speaker full of energy and great stories about the work he’s done in Nairobi. He stresses that open source practices, circular production and distributive manufacturing are all working to bring about industrialization in a sustainable way. It’s exciting to see the wide range of activities that a Fab Lab can bring about to help make the world a better place.

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