10 Questions – Steve Mugiri And The Afrigadget Team

10 questions

I found Afrigadget one day while looking for renewable energy stories from Africa. I was quickly enchanted by the wonderful and amazing stories of African innovators. The gadgets highlighted are not only creative, but life changing. The bloggers at Afrigadget bring to the world amazing inventions from the African continent. Steve Mugiri one of the bloggers from Afrigadget, was gracious enough to sit down for an email conversation with me.

1. The Naib: Could you tell us how AfriGadget got started, what was the inspiration?

Steve Mugiri: Afrigadget was started over a year ago by a number of African bloggers.
The inspiration behind Afrigadget was to provide a platform on which the appropriate use of technology and African ingenuity in its application could be showcased. Afrigadget had a quick growth phase about this time when Erik Hersman signed on many of the contributing editors to the blog, including myself.

2. The Naib: Who are the people that make up AfriGadget? (if you could give a little info about each that would be great)

Steve Mugiri: Almost everyone who blogs at AfriGadget blogs somewhere else on other stuff.

* Juliana Rotich:blogs at afromusing.com/blog where she discusses many technological themes, but with a focus on renewable energy.

* Erik Hersman: writes at WhiteAfrican.com, where he talks about web and mobile technology and how they are changing Africa. < http://whiteafrican.com * Juergen blogs at Kikuyumoja blog.uhuru.de

* Mark www.steudel.org works for the Peace Corps in Kenya that is trying to create a mobile trading and finance application for mobile phones for farmers.

* Mentalacrobatics is Daudi Were blogs at mentalacrobatics.com/think and also runs the largest blogging group in Africa at the Kenyan Bloggers Webring.

* Nii Simmonds is an entrepreneur from Nigeria who writes at Nubian Cheetah

* Ntwiga: this is me, Steve Mugiri. I blog at a bunch of places but my true home is ntwiga.net/blog where I blog about pre-1985 East African music.

* Robert grew up in Namibia and writes at iscatterlings .

* Neville Newey contributes from time to time – he is the creator of Muti.co.za a website dedicated to bringing pertinent news on Africa to people everyday (much like Reddit, but for Africa)

3. TN: The stories you cover are so amazing, how do you find the people and items highlighted on the site?

SM: AfriGadget is about walking around the world we live in with our eyes open, ready to find a different take on the mundane that one can present to the rest of the world. The typical story on AfriGadget represents the reality of what people have to do every day: working hard to find solutions to their daily problems that they can put in place for themselves.

A (sad) side effect to this is the fact that this means the stories presented on AfriGadget would almost certainly without exception not make it in the news back in Africa for this reason. There are so many instances of people coming up with innovative, appropriate and cost effective solutions to their daily problems that it is an accepted fact of life.

4. TN: What are some of the challenges involved with producing a website about a part of the world that does not have very good access to the internet?

SM: The primary challenge is of course finding the stories while looking through the blinders of having lived these stories ourselves, For example, I suspect that I would be hard pressed to find someone from my generation, rich or poor, who did not make their own toys while young. This was simply a fact of life. Having lived this all through our childhoods, it thus becomes a little difficult to step outside our experiences and realize that just this fact is a story of itself.

The hardest part of it all though is figuring out what type of story would be appealing to the readership of AfriGadget that is primarily North American and European.

5. TN: I imagine there are not a Home Depot and RadioShack on every corner. Could you talk a bit about the kinds of challenges that African inventors are faced with.

SM: The primary challenge facing any African inventor and innovator would be exactly what you described so aptly in saying that there is no Home Depot around the corner: the lack of resources.

While this refers mainly to financial resources, it goes further than just money though. Resources covers access to information and even access to skilled labor to carry out work. For example, there have been a couple of very interesting AfriGadget stories about individuals and organizations creating the tools and devices that they need from scratch such William Kamkwamba who built a windmill to generate electricity for his home or artisans at Nairobi’s Banana Hill who built their own welding machines from scratchto use to earn a

What makes these stories so engaging, interesting and challenging is the fact that they are about people carrying out economic activities with very little resources to them that are so challenging that we would typically expect them to be tackled only by organizations.

6. TN: You were recently involved with TED global, what was that like?

SM: Four of the AfriGadget editors were at TED Global in Arusha, Tanzania this summer (Erik Hersman, Juliana Rotich, Nii Simmonds and Daudi Were). Erik Hersman, had a chance to present to everyone the
ingenuity and innovation found in Africa that is showcased on AfriGadget. Everyone has reported back about it being an absolutely amazing experience. It was a chance for like-minded people with big
ideas for Africa to meet and discuss what changes they could make.

I found a story about a young Malawian who had built a windmill from scratch to help power the lights in his rural home. When I showed up at TED Global in Arusha in June, I had no idea that I would meet him. At that point, he hadn’t been introduced to the larger TED community, so I was this lone excited voice squawking about how thrilled I was to meet him.

2 Days later, William Kamkwamba was introduced to the TED community on stage: (via)

7. TN: A lot of non-profit groups seem to think the “know what Africa needs,” but your site seems to show that given a chance the people of the countries of Africa are more than capable of creating amazing things. Are these non-profits really addressing the needs of African people?

SM: Africa, like any other place in the world, is full of hard working people who are more than willing to do the work that it takes to better their lives and do so very single day in spite of having very limited access to resources. The desire to go the extra mile is what drives development. However, a dearth of resources puts the African population at a distinct disadvantage.

NGOs are meant to offer help in meeting the need for some of these resources which is a crucial role. It is argued that the primary problem with NGOs is that they are not in touch with the realities of the lives of the populations that they are meant to serve. This argument is further supported anecdotal evidence that seems to suggest that innovative and indigenous programs designed by the communities that they are meant to serve are typically more effective than those designed elsewhere and “shipped” in by NGOs.

That said though, there is no single “true way” to achieving development objectives for Africa. Even NGO have their place in the grand scheme of things in Africa.

And at end of it all, at AfriGadget, we try to report the stories rather than the organizations and individuals behind them.

8. TN: There has also been a lot of talk recently about people like Bono and efforts to help Africa. Specifically if it is a good thing or a bad thing to be giving large amount of money to governments that might be corrupt. What do you feel is the best thing developed countries can be doing for Africa?

SM: At AfriGadget there are a number of bloggers with differing views on issues. However, when it comes to the “aid vs trade” debate, most of us believe that a more useful approach would be to inject investment money into Africa with entrepreneurs who know how to return a profit to the investors. At the AfriGadget level, Erik has discussed moving AfriGadget into a position to create avenues for investment into the business of the micro-entrepreneurs that we so often write stories about.

9. TN: What would you say is the most life changing/saving or useful gadget you have covered so far?

SM: I think that everyone on AfriGadget would agree that that if we had to pick a life-changing gadget, it would have to be William Kakwamba and his homemade power generation windmill. This young man’s ingenuity and determination are a hallmark example of what African’s are doing every day around the planet:coming up with innovative and effective solutions for problems that they run into in their day to day lives.

10. TN: What has been your favorite gadget so far?

SM: My favorite as far as gadgets go is the knife-sharpening bicycle. I grew up seeing people who did this for a living but a recent trip to Kenya this summer re-opened my eyes to just how cool this particular everyday gadget is.

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