Caroline Grellier, recent graduate from the école Boulle in Paris, has just spent a few months at the Woelab (fablab, Togo). In June 2014 she takes part in the Innovafrica preparatory bootcamp organised by the first fablab in Western Africa, the Ouagalab (Burkina Faso). For Makery she tells the tale of this gathering of African makers.
June 21st, 2014
Yes, they did it! After more than three years of a nomadic existence, the jolly gang from Ouagalab, first Western African fablab born in 2011, managed to collect more than 7,000 euros thanks to participatory funding in order to move into a cosy little nest in a courtyard able to accommodate their projects. Since the Woelab in Togo where I arrived 7 months ago, I am seizing the opportunity to meet Gildas Guiella, co-founder of Ouagalab, and his friends by participating in the bootcamp they are organising from the 22nd to the 27th of June. At this bootcamp they will organise InnovAfrica, the annual forum that will bring together at the end of November 2014 in Lomé entrepreneurial innovative project leaders and technology buffs from Western Africa. Here are the highlights of this week to discover what is going on in the Burkinabe capital.
A 37 hour journey
Driving by night through Ghana in a bus worthy of maracas on a track full of road works where wobbling overloaded lorries, rusty trotros, buses and taxis are zooming along; a breakdown of the bus, then a car breakdown later on under the scorching sun, here I am in Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou, Ouaga-doux-goût (“Ouaga sweet taste”) or even nicknamed Ouaga.
First sight of the town on a motorbike and first… thermal shock: the heat is overwhelming. Gildas welcomes us around a Brakina (beer made in Burkina Faso) and wishes us the traditional African “happy arrival”. I meet up with my Togolese, Ghanaian, Beninese colleagues around the bar table in a family atmosphere. The Ivorians will join us later since they are busy making progress in real time on the Umap cartography of the flooded areas of Abidjan to help first-aid workers. « Mon kôrô » (my big brother) is in every mouth and laughter resonates since they all know each other and maintain strong relationships on the social networks.
Two hours later, in the family lounge, to a background of Honduras-Ecuador (World Cup fever), I am asking Gildas who is over the moon due to the Kisskissbankbankgood news the why and how of the Ouagalab. By the end of the forum he has caught the bug. He talks about his desire to create a community of makers from Burkina Faso. Over three years, the Ouagalab is slowly built up brick by brick. Starting with the community.
For want of premises to rent, ideas and projects arise at the bar amongst friends, in someone’s garage, in the courtyard of another, or still on premises lent for a while by an association. This nomadism creates a problem-solving spirit. Whilst listening to Gildas, I feel the commitment of this young community ready to make some sacrifices: refuse a job that is too time consuming, turn down a geographically remote mission, give all their time and energy to build something together. They show proof through action that yes one can change things by acting concretely on small things to transform every day live for the people of Uganda, Burkina Faso, for the people of Africa. “Even if there are two of us, we go ahead with it, says Gildas. The Ouagalab is open to all but no one waits for anyone in particular to go forward.”
The core of the community can be counted on ten fingers. No matter. Activities are flourishing: an open source wind turbine made from recycling materials, a Jerry computer assembled in a calabash to address technical problems, mapping parties and trainings on OpenStreetMap in several towns in the country, open source software workshops, DiY Arduino evenings, an assembly workshop for a digital milling machine.
June 27th 2014: mapping, Arduino & co
The Internet connexion is playing up so we are finding it difficult to transfer our mapping data on OpenStreetMap…We clean with a toothbrush the CNC put up in 2011. At the back, geeks are exploring an Arduino Leonardo, talking about open source software, using an iron on a copper DiY circuit board designed with the help of the Eagle software, focusing their efforts on the latest exercise from the Python coding school.
As the sole women’s representative, I am giving a hand for the sewing of the two-coloured Jerry. At the end of the day, Gildas takes us all to the site of the future Ouagalab: a courtyard to be refurbished in a quiet area 200m from the road. Here a warehouse with a canvas roof, there rooms for passing visitors, and at the back dry toilets. At the time of writing, considerable progress had been made on the summer work: geographers with hammers, geeks with cement, everyone chipped in.
June 29th: Visions Afrik
Historic day! The day of the constitutive assembly of Visions Afrik, the leading association for Ouagalab but also for a broader third place project including a co-working space dedicated to the support and development of projects. The team is already thinking about designing a 3D solar energy printer and rehabilitating a bus into an itinerant computer room in order to reduce the digital gap in Burkina Faso.
The day ends with the traditional debrief around a nice cool Brakina. Certainly not a luxury in this tropical heat. Time for assessment barely affected by the questionable elimination of the Ivory Coast in the World cup.
During this bootcamp week with communities from the Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin, Ghana, Burkina Faso and France, I felt strong links between the African culture and the maker spirit. This day-to-day way of living, of doing what can be done today without waiting for the next day, with the available means and creativity, with the support of human and not material resources. The Ouagalab in any case seems to have avoided one of the traps of the fablab: an equipped place that leaves room for fascination of the machine but is void of meaning and projects. The motto of this inspiring model could be: friends first!