March 17th, 2011
01:27 PM GMT
I recently discovered a tiny nugget of information that I am savoring.
Don’t get too excited. It is just a word; only two syllables of linguistic pleasure. It’s a word that doesn¹t really make sense when you first read it. However, it is quite pleasant to say out loud.
Go on, say it:
I was doing some online research on African innovation and creativity and stumbled on the concept of ”bushpunk,” which is described as a uniquely African way of making something out of nothing. Or as some might say, “low-tech solutions to high-tech challenges.”
One blog I discovered, www.bombasticelements.blogspot.com, describes ”bushpunk” as when we, “unhitch our imagination” and repurpose or “cannibalize” objects to refashion them to meet our demands.
In Africa, the staggering growth of mobile-phone banking, for example, grew out of this need to use mobile phones for more than just making calls.
In Kenya, a similar description refers to this same sense of grassroots innovation. “Jua kali” literally means sitting in the “hot sun” in Swahili and it describes an industry of roadside inventors creating things in the open-air.
Across the continent, there are numerous examples of how people interpret objects and technology for themselves. We have all seen those homemade radios or the makeshift generators that litter the African urban landscape.
In Lagos, there is a bustling industry of pavement computer experts. In Maputo, satellite dishes are rewired to provide access to whole apartment blocks. In South Africa, I have seen kids fashion toys out of discarded rubbish that make you smile with wonder.
Then there are the local inventions that make you wonder why the research and development department of a global multinational didn’t think of it: bicycles that also charge cellphone batteries while you peddle or the vuvuzela-like washing machine for rural women to use.
It is a fascinating combination of poverty breeding ingenuity. Millions of Africans lack opportunities to better themselves but everyday they create a wealth of innovations that defy the boundaries of their village.
Harnessing the power of “bushpunk” is the next step in Africa's development.
What are the most ingenious African solutions you have seen or heard of?
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