George Odhiambo's bicycle-turned-bellows at his metal workshop in Gikomba, Kenya, fulfils his need for a constant fire to heat metal rods. This creative use of a simple, everyday object to fulfil a requirement embodies the theme of Maker Faire Africa 2009, an exhibition of African creativity.
The first ever Maker Faire Africa, held in Accra (Ghana) from August 14-16 2009, was a celebration of innovative inventions such as Odhiambo's from across the continent. The organisers of the event came together through blogs and other Internet forums. Emer Beamer from the Amsterdam-based company Butterfly Works, one of the organisers, said the event drew 70 participants and about 300 visitors per day. She explains the uniqueness of the event lay in its grassroots focus – it encouraged like-minded people from African countries to come together, talk to each other, share tips and find solutions among themselves. The people who attended were offering either skills, mentorship or expertise in a specific technique. The do-it-yourself attitude propogated at the Faire asked people to localise their products and services to cater to each other. These vary from software technology to African dolls, to gadgets to plant corn.
To capitalise on all networking possibilities at the event, Butterfly Works created a 'Match the Maker' service, where participants were invited to write down the type of assistance they needed with products or services. At frequent intervals, someone would read the list from atop a box. For example, one person wanted an FM radio station built in his village, and through this service, he found someone who could do it.
Beamer said the Maker Faire is an attempt to change the emphasis on Africa from development to innovation. There is no clear answer as to why the attention on Africa eludes the small-scale manufacture sector, and focuses mainly on development and aid. The Maker Faire is a small step towards changing the existing perception of the continent, and encouraging African inventors and innovators, and in turn, Africa, to be self-reliant.