Since it started in 2009, the Maker Movement in Africa and the technologies associated with it (3D printing, Arduinos, Raspberry Pi's) have always lacked the immediate the "hype wave" associated with start-ups. Russell Southwood spoke to Alayne Reesberg, Cape Town Mini Maker Faire who's hoping to change all that.
The Maker Movement in Africa seems almost to have a parallel existence to its more visible cousins, start-ups and incubators. They may co-locate but start-ups are the good-looking ones who get most of the attention.
Perhaps it's because the maker communities (and Fab Labs) seem to involve people who are older than the start-up community and who often see what they do as side-activity or a hobby.
Nigerian diaspora blogger Emeka Okafor has argued that Africa needs to use what Makers do to find ways of creating manufactured goods. He points to the innate skills of Africans who repair and adapt stuff to make it work in African conditions: It's sort of tinkering your way into a different industrial future.
These arguments have found their echo in the creation of Kenya's Gearbox that describes itself as a maker space for design and rapid prototyping and in the launching of the BRCK. In Nigeria the GE Garage space is using the some of the technologies listed above to explore energy supply innovation.
Alayne Reesberg who runs the Cape Town Mini Maker Faire is setting out to change all that by giving higher profile to those involved and pulling in the young to get enthusiastic about doing it:"We're aiming at a kids and kidults. It's all about getting stuck in and participating. It's noisy, grimy and people are getting dirt under their nails. Our lives have become very clean. When I grew up in rural South Africa, we had a workshop full of stuff."
In the global context, it is one of 155 franchised Maker Faires that take place every year. It launched last year and attracted 4,000 people but is looking this year to bring in 6,000 people. It takes place 26-28 August 2016 at the Cape Town Science Centre: https://www.facebook.com/CTMiniMakerFaire/ Reesberg was the CEO of World Design Capital when it came to Cape Town and through that met Omar Soubra who's responsible for the event franchise.
There's a disassembly workshop where participants take apart and put back together again things like toasters. Also they can use old computer parts and scanners to make new things:"It's anything that can be taken apart and repurposed. Kids learn to solder under supervision. It's a safe space for experimentation which parents always appreciate. As the head of the San Francisco Maker Movement says 'Making is evidence of learning is the T-shirt for you.'"
Reesberg points to the potential for making rapid prototyping easier and cheaper:"You will see the return of urban manufacturing and urban community workshops."
The exhibitors get what they are calling Maker Stations:"We give them free space and they can do what they do for free. 3D printing actually came out of a Maker Faire and 3D printing is at the core of this very democratized prototyping."
In terms of what the Maker Movement is doing in South Africa she describes a blind post doctoral student who devised ways of teaching what the universe looks like to blind students. In the area of the creative, warhorse puppets were created for Africa Burn, the continent's equivalent of the Burning Man Festival.
There are also even more complicated things like Stellenbosch University's Innovus which has made CubeSat satellite components which it is selling globally. CubeSats can be used for a myriad of purposes, including the recording of aerial photographs, the detection of cosmic dust and even the prediction of earthquakes. To date, more than 100 CubeSats have been launched into space. 41 have been made at Stellenbosch University: "There's everything from some extraordinary craft to the high tech end."
Emeka Okafor on what Maker Faire means for Africa and the need for manufacturing on the continent
Robyn Farah, Kat-O on her maker space in Cape Town and what it does
Jumanne Mtambalike, Buni Hub on making a 3D printer and drone from e-waste-mass production next?
Rick Treweek on African Robot's 3D printing training and his passion brand Trobok Toys