The InnovAfrica forum in Togo, held from the 24th to the 28th of November, brought together 150 Africans from 15 French speaking countries. The trend for 2014 is a strong presence of women and lab projects galore. African innovation as seen by 7 of its actors.
Lomé (Togo), special envoy (text and photographs)
Six years already that the last week of November is a key event in the African innovators and makers’ diaries. Each year, the InnovAfrica forum initiated by Imagination for people, together with the United Nation Programme for Development (UNPD) and Orange Labs, is held in an African capital so that project leaders coming from the whole of French speaking Africa may meet, exchange their experiences and detect new projects. This rendezvous dedicated to African social and technological innovation boosts the emulation of ideas and projects of African tech communities. The 2014 edition was held from the 24th to the 28th of November in Lomé, Togo and gathered 150 participants from 15 different nationalities with a large representation of women, sufficiently rare to be highlighted. Encounters with 7 African actors of social innovation and leaders of collaborative projects, existing labs or labs to be…to be followed closely.
“Fablab…I saw the word on Twitter without knowing what it was. I wasn’t interested in this geek thing. It was at InnovAfrica that I realised that these places represented real opportunities to help the young to assume greater responsibilities.” Christelle N’Cho Assirou, Women & ITC NGO
Whilst talking with other women fablab project leaders, Christelle N’Cho Assirou, president of the Ivorian NGO Women & ITC NGO created in 2006, decided to set up the first fablab of Abidjan, specialised in training girls in technology and DiY activities because “the fablab is an ideal setting to break down stereotypes!” The GoLab (“Go” means “girl” in the Ivorian jargon) will see the light of day in the early days of 2015 with a community already consisting of about eighty women of all ages.
“OpenStreetMap changed my life” explains Fatiman Alher, 26 year old Nigerian student in geography who discovered collaborative cartography by switching on a computer at university. Heavily involved in the #mapping4ebola, she knew nothing about fablabs before working with the OSM mappers from Ouagalab a few weeks ago. The community of 19 students now wishes to create applications based on cartography, backbone of their fablab project. First project they set their sights on: the mapping of the transport networks in Niamey.
Diarra Sally has a thousand ideas per minute. This 33 year old young Mauritanian telecom engineer living in Dakar pushed open the door of Defko Ak Niep (fablab, Dakar) a few months ago and had the idea to reproduce the model at home in Mauritania with the Sahel Fablab created in October 2014. “We intend to start off without machines at first with a project of a solar oven. Cardboard, aluminium and motivated Mauritanians are all we need.” The Ouagalab philosophy is gaining momentum…
Hermann Aguessy is a network computer engineer and a member of the Cotonou University of the free (UDL) association in Benin. The mission of UDL is to promote free software and exchange views on open source technologies. Based on his experience as an international Volunteer for French speaking countries at the Defko Ak Niep fablab of Dakar in 2013, Hermann is the fabmanager of BloLab (“Blo” means “do it” in fon language, the equivalent of DiY), focused on self-training by the free. A fine team of geeks convinced that the free software philosophy is one of the major tools of African innovation that Hermann defines as follows: “It is the ability to be able to adapt extraordinary solutions to our local problems applying the African resourcefulness whilst involving the citizens.”
Alice Souka is the first Togolese Mys’TIC (project launched on November 22nd in Togo), a member of the Minodoo community, Togolese nomadic third place. “The objective of Mys’TIC, beyond projects to train girls in computer-based tools, programming and free software, is to create employment opportunities.” Togo seems to have followed in the footsteps of Mys’TICs from the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, involved in the agricultural sector through projects such as teaching market salespeople how to use the calculator of their mobile phones. Alice is already surrounded with a team of about ten girls, geek and non-geeks, even if men are also welcome!
Tidiane Ball is not only a doctor. Aged 28, this technology-minded Malian trained himself in programming to become an entrepreneur in medical computing. Creator in 2009 of MaliSanté, a website that has become a start-up based on an application that lists all the health facilities in Mali, Tidiane is presently setting up the Donilab (“Doni: knowledge in bambara language”), his latest project with the Ebolainfo application that gives access to information on Ebola in vernacular Malian languages thanks to a voice server. The majority of the Malian maker community is 20 years of age and unemployed. According to Tidiane Ball, “they are sleeping intelligences to be awoken with a third place like a fablab, to bring confidence and experience and give these young a chance to create their own jobs.”
“The Palaver is the village tree under which one gathers to take important decisions in life or to relax, chat, play”, says Senegalese Amina Diagne. From now on, the Palaver is also the fablab of Lufisque, in the outskirts of Dakar. With this project, Aminata, true dynamo and 27 year old project manager, intends to bring together craftsmen and youngsters with difficulties, to recreate a link around creative activities. Starting with the making of furniture made of recycled plastic that will furnish the premises. “Our objective is to be able to offer without means trainings in sewing, welding, electronics, French but also local languages, to allow neighbourhood residents to enhance their skills.”