Maker Faire Africa 2010

So, Maker Faire 2010 has now been and gone – and it was such a wonderful way to begin winding up my time here and the DIY Kenya project!

Paul, Stefan and I all really enjoyed rubbing shoulders and swapping stories with our fellow makers (at the Faire and in the bars and breakfast rooms of the hotel where many of the makers also stayed) indeed, it was great meeting all those enthusiasts of African-born innovation who came to see the show.  After a quiet first day – due to the draw of the Constitution celebrations in nearby Uhuru Park – the second day of the faire was very, very busy with hundreds of visitors passing through.

The faire took place in the central green of the Nairobi University campus in the city centre.  The maker stalls were sited, much like a festival village, in white open-faced tents with pointed roofs.  The sky was overcast and a little grey but the mood of the faire was bright, colourful and celebratory – and there was innovation everywhere! 

Among the maker exhibits were machines for conservation of fuel or water (and so of special interest to me and the DIY Kenya project) labour-saving devices, fashion accessories, examples of self-sufficiency and income generation projects, home décor products. craft workshops and interactive art displays.  There were also several collaborative artworks and workshops taking place around the faire.  Check out these pics:


Bike-powered Maize husking machine with additional phone charger (Note phone on luggage rack)

Unicef internet barrel:

Norbet demonstrating his Solar powered traffic light system.

The ‘Fab-fi’ open-source system providing free wireless internet to all at Maker Faire 2010

Children display their avian artworks from the ‘Crafting For Peace’ project

Boda-boda bicycles, complete with modified suspension and phone-charging capabilities.

The hand-made ‘Innovation for Kenya’ banner which the Kwale students made for bloc hung in full visibility above the three tables that made up our Maker Faire stall.  On my left was the ‘Automated Water Winch’ – the collaborative project between Paul Granjon and the Mechanical Engineering students from Nairobi University; and to my right, Stefhan and the team from Nairobits who were assisting makers to get online and promote their work by helping them create free WordPress websites.  I was exhibiting the DIY Kenya project via a very visual digital presentation, displayed large on a 42 inch plasma TV.  

I had decided in Kwale that the prototypes from the Kwale projects were either too big (our bamboo rig), too damaged (you may recall the exploding Jiko?) or too rough too include in the exhibit and so I thought that videos and an eye-catching presentation would be enough to compensate.  During the first day of the fair however, I noticed that people were not instantly drawn to my large TV screen, indeed, nor were they drawn to any TV screen.  In fact, I found that I was having the same experience.  I circulated the fair two – maybe three times before realizing that I too had passed-by three other BIG plasma TV presentations on other stalls without even realising they were there!

In a faire consisting largely of interesting physical or handcrafted displays, a digital plasma TV looked a bit, well, a bit flat; less demanding, less immediate.  I took the decision to alter my stand, taking emphasis off the screen and introducing the original hand-drawn concept designs sketch sheets produced in Kwale. …And it worked!  People were instantly drawn directly to the detailed full-colour drawings displayed on my table and immediately began asking questions – and occasionally looked at the on-screen movie.  Incidentally, some of the drawings had originally been scanned and inserted into the on-screen presentation but it wasn’t until they were presented as originals that people really took note.  

There was a lot of interest in the DIY Kenya project come Day Two when the faire was busier.  Generally, people would come up and compliment the drawings and then ask what they were looking at (!).   I would describe the project and the collaborative design process.  A lot of people asked questions about the development of the concepts and when they were going to be put into production – which I took as a promising indication that the concepts were on the right track! 

I would often ask people to indicate their ‘favourite’ concept, to which the majority of people said the two Water Challenge concepts; Kwale Bamboo Guttering and Kwale Rain Mat, with the Fuel Press a close third place.  Many people also asked where they could get more information and contact details (why from this very blog of course!) and so left with a business card.

I was MOST delighted to have the company of the principal, Mary and five students from the Kwale Homeopathic College who had traveled to Nairobi to support the DIY Kenya project and to take in the delights of the faire.  When a reporting team visited our stand to conduct a ‘Maker Interview’ the girls were very happy to be involved and contributed to the video interview which will be uploaded to the Maker Faire website very soon.

Maker Faire Africa is also a competition and awards event, judged by the organising team and each project on display is considered for a prize.  There were many categories of award (e.g. awards for Industrial Design, Engineering, Re-appropriation of waste) and BLOC were awarded a prize for ‘Furthest Traveled’ which Paul, Steffan and I were happy to accept!  The award for ‘Best Use of Water’ was won by the students of Nairobi University with whom Paul had worked on the Automated Water Winch.


Paul Granjon of Bloc enjoys a demonstration of Alex’s Sisol-twining machine

Stefhan Caddick of Bloc assisting maker in building their own free WordPress websites

On Saturday evening, the organizers had arranged a gathering at the rather swanky ‘Galileo’ nightclub in Nairobi to give the Makers a chance to unwind, chat and get down!  Hospitality included a bus taxi from our Hotel and the first drink courtesy of Maker Faire Africa!  …and boy, did those guys and girls get down!

I am just about to set out for the day for my meetings with Practical Action, Design Kenya and Mike Wamama.  Update soon!

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1 Response to Maker Faire Africa 2010

  1. Amelia says:

    You see, I told you your drawings were fabulous! It sounds and looks so inspiringly delightful and very pleased to see the hand made approach appeals and excites. Very well done indeed old thing! Magic, wizard splendiferous. Not a purple pimm in sight.

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