Creativity and ingenuity in technology are driving a new generation of African innovators. It’s well known that African countries are developing at a rapid rate. According to the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report, six of these countries are ranked as the fastest-growing economies in the world. This development is especially apparent in technology fields where creative inventions, tech hacks and innovations are finding solutions to socially centred problems. We’re seeing students in Kenya build their own solar-powered motorcycles, a robotics school nurturing a new generation of problem-solvers in Uganda and honey-spun band-aids designed to heel diabetics’ wounds in Egypt.
–Robotic traffic officers direct cars on Kinshasa’s roads
Solar-powered robotic traffic cops have been “hired” to regulate the disorderly traffic in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. So they enlisted the skills of industrial engineer Thérèse Izay Kirongozi to develop humanoid robots that would regulate traffic in the country’s capital.
The first generation robot, installed in 2013, was deployed to protect pedestrians crossing one of the main roads in Kinshasa – Boulevard Lumumba. This first robot, which towers over pedestrians at two-and-a-half meters tall can raise one robotic arm and bend the other, regulating traffic on one end and allowing passengers to cross on the other. The first robot was also programmed to give pedestrians spoken commands, telling them to wait or cross the road.
Congolese officials opted for the robotic model because residents have reported that they mistrust human traffic officers. Since the robotic models have been deployed, officials have reported fewer incidents on the road and Kinshasans have reported that the traffic surrounding the robotic officers has been eased.
-A Ugandan graduate can charge your phone with a bicycle tire
Elliot Mwebaze has developed a device that enables phones to charge using a bicycle dynamo. Elliot, a telecom-engineering graduate who has made charging phones much easier by lessening their dependence on electricity. Over a period of nine months, he developed a device that enables phones to charge using a bicycle dynamo.
A dynamo is a device that enables bicycles to produce light. Mwebaze’s innovation converts the rotating energy from the bike into electrical energy, which can charge the mobile phones within 120 minutes. When he is not working for energy management consultancy Galooli Uganda, Mwebaze spends his time looking for opportunities through which he can improve his innovation and make it accessible for all bicycle riders. This technology is ideal for the rural population of Uganda, who often use bicycles as a mode of transport. Rather than travelling miles to charge a phone in the nearest town centre, their phones can charge on their journey to other meaningful work.
Mwebaze was initially inspired to create an alternative energy source for charging mobile phones when he missed a final exam because his phone blacked out in a remote village in Rukungiri. The only way he could get back online was to move to the next town to recharge. He then devoted most of his free time and energy on finding alternative ways through which phones could stay charged, even in places without power supply. Mwebaze was picked by the UCC to represent Uganda in the East African ICT exhibition organized by the East African Communications Organization, where his innovation got more visibility with the East African community.
He has faced many challenges trying to build his idea into a tangible product, the most significant being difficulty in finding the necessary equipment. But with his knowledge in engineering and with patience, he managed to grow his concept to the product that could help keep people with charged up mobile devices.
The experience taught him not to fear failure. “You have to fail before you can succeed,” he says. In a discussion on the increasing levels of unemployment and underemployment in Uganda, he puts the blame largely on the theory-heavy education system, which does not focus on technical skills and leads to the inability to develop ideas. The lack of a large manufacturing industry too could be an opportunity to create thousands of jobs and boost the local economy. With reports of Uganda having the largest number start-ups and failed businesses he points to lack of basic skills such as bookkeeping, integrity, customer service.
The article on Elliot Mwebaze was originally published on This is Uganda, a platform for Ugandan writers determined to tell stories about their country that demystify stereotypes and share the real story of Uganda with the world.