The first Africa Open Science Hardware Summit will take place from April 13-15 in Kumasi, Ghana. Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudou, co-organizer, answered our questions.
Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudou is the president of the Association for the promotion of open science in Haiti and Africa (Apsoha) and (in particular) behind the first Africa Open Science & Hardware rendezvous, from April 13-15 in Ghana, of which Makery is a partner. This PhD student in public communication at Laval University in Canada is conducting research on open science and more specifically on fablabs in French-speaking Africa. Prior to this first event dedicated to equipment for open science, he answered our questions.
What are the objectives of the Africa OSH Summit event?
These last few years, the maker movement has widely spread throughout the world and Africa was not left out. More and more fablabs, co-creation spaces, open innovation spaces are multiplying there. However, the movement, as it is spread in Africa, seems to be a copy or a reproduction attempt of what has been done at the MIT, in France, in short in the West. The general idea of Africa OSH is to open a conversation by and for the Africans on how to benefit from the maker movement, open science, open hardware. In order to consider them from our own social, cultural and political realities, yet, not withdraw into ourselves.
Where did the idea to organize this first Africa OSH event come from?
It emerged on the occasion of my meeting with Jorge Appiah from Kumasi Hive, during the Gathering for Open Science Hardware (GOSH 2017) in Santiago, Chili. We spent a significant amount of time discussing about our visions of African specificities: for my part, about the criticism of the implementation of the maker movement in Africa, and for Jorge, about the appropriate business model to ensure the viability of fablabs and other spaces in the African context. On the basis of our divergent and converging ideas, we told ourselves it was imperative to open a large conversation on the subject, in such a way as to allow Africa to truly benefit from the maker movement. These discussions continued during the MIT Bio Summit 2017, during which I met Connie Chow from The Exploratory in Accra, Ghana, the vision of which is centered around STEM education in Africa. Connie Chow joined us to organize the event and we really got into it from that moment.
How is the event received by the African communities?
We received about 400 applications, 80% of which were African, all equally interesting. However, after the final selection, many candidates had to withdraw against their will because trips inside Africa are very costly. Despite this difficulty, at least 60% of the participants will be African on the hundred or so expected. So, on top of people coming from everywhere in the world, the different sub-regions of Africa will be represented: Southern Africa, Central Africa, Eastern Africa, North Africa and Western Africa.
How will these three days unfold?
The different articulations of the event were thought out according to the call for contributions that we launched a few months ago. The global structure is based on daily brainstorming sessions, composed of presentations, panels, workshops, and unconferences. With themes that will cover the principles and practices of open science as well as environmental issues. We opted for brainstorming sessions instead of keynotes, in order to spark off endogenous collective thinking. After the event, a report will be produced and published.
Can you tell us about the principles you developed with Apsoha?
As part of the Soha project (Open science in Haiti and Africa), we largely worked on cognitive injustices. One of the most important is the epistemic alienation that leads us to think according to the Western thought-patterns, the consequence of which drives us away from issues specific to African realities. Thus the mission Apsoha assigned itself to: the quest for cognitive justice through open science. The desire to give Africans the possibility to think by themselves and find solutions that meet the needs of their own environment. However, we remain watchful regarding open science which is a double-edged sword; because beyond the benefits of openness, open science can also prove to be a neo-colonialism instrument in certain situations.
Thomas Mboa and the neo-colonialist unconscious of open access, OpenCon 2017, Berlin:
How did Apsoha create links with the GOSH movement?
Our links with GOSH date back to 2016, after the GOSH Manifesto, to which we largely contributed online on themes linked to cognitive justice. These links strengthened with our critical position that refuses any generalization of the maker movement without taking into account local specificities. This justified our participation in GOSH 2017 in Chili as well as our contribution as an author to the GOSH Roadmap (the call for translation into French of the GOSH Roadmap is still ongoing, editor’s note).
Is this a question of accessing equipment?
The problem of access to equipment starts with the lack of information on existing possibilities. If Africans were aware of the issues and the evolution of technology, this question would be solved rapidly. In Cameroon for example, many schools do not have computers because they are expensive. The use of recycled Western computers is favored although they cost three to four times more than a Raspberry Pi nano-computer (RPi3). The problem is not the access to RPi3 but the fact that one doesn’t even know it exists. The accessibility problem first entails raising awareness and consciousness of solutions that are at our disposal in order to then make access to this equipment easier.
What do you think about the model promoted by the Fab Foundation?
This model, as it was thought out at the MIT, is not designed to meet the needs specific to the African context entirely. There is a strong need to reassess this model, in view of its Africanization, to lead to a true cultural appropriation of fablab type spaces. It is also the raison d’être of Africa OSH that calls for debate on the necessity of seeing the movement otherwise.
If African makers, open science, biohackers decided to put themselves at the service of society, which is their original mission, they would be capable of truly innovating while meeting the needs of the local populations. Rather than trying to comply with having a 3D printer, a CNC, doing electronics, etc., the most important is to turn these spaces into places of innovation with a real social utility in the African context. While reminding us that we are all initially makers, a similar approach to the jugaad spirt (of which we told you about here this week, editor’s note) should be encouraged in the African model.
The Africa Open Science & Hardware Summit from April 13-15, 2018 in Kumasi, Ghana, to follow live with the hashtag #AfricaOsh
Contribute to the funding of Africa OSH on Gofundme