Over a billion computers are in use worldwide. In developing communities, once they are no longer in use, or beyond repair, more than 50 per cent are illegally shipped to dumps. This gives Africa a massive electronic waste problem as reusable components mix with toxic materials, polluting poverty-stricken areas.
Within hacker space WoeLab, Africa’s first space for democratic technology, Togolese inventor Kodjo Afate Gnikou and its community of thirty young residents turned imported e-waste into an economic asset. Through their #LowHighTech programme, they lifted designs found online to collectively constructed the first 3D printer made from dumped scanner parts and an old diskette drive scavenged from a scrapyard. The W.Afate printer takes its name partly from Afate’s, with the W standing for the WoeLab headquarters.
Woelab founder Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou stresses that all projects are collectivist and based on sharing: “This machine, like everything developed in WoeLab, is a collaborative initiative,” he tells us. “The W.Afate is one of the very first African symbols of this contemporary movement of ‘Commons’ which is being developed around the world and is the intuition behind everything we do in Togo-echoed in our African traditions.”
The DIY version, which cost only $100 and can print household utensils, is just the prototype for something larger. The next step is to set up a network of 3D printer cafes to make environmentally sustainable manufacturing technology more widely available in Africa. Woelab, whose philosophies are low high tech and technology democracy, compares the impact of 3D printing to that of the steam engine in the 19th century.
Watch Agbodjinou introduce Woelab and enjoy this soundtrack:
Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou, Founder, Woelab