About driving innovation in Africa

One of the first sessions at Maker Faire Africa on the first day was a panel discussion about “What drives innovation in Africa?” The initial reasons are obvious with things such as necessity, curiosity, and information coming to the forefront. But of course, these are common to most anywhere and say nothing specifically about Africa.
When it comes down to it in Africa, most of panelists came to the conclusion that it really is a need to create and the fact that you have to be incredibly determined in Africa in order to create that drives the successful innovation on the African continent. While those living in the US or Europe are used to the older generation holding back their new ideas, the case for this is apparently even more pronounced. Nana (a photographer in Ghana) pointed to the fact that a great many of the least creative people in Ghanaian society tend to fall in to teaching. These people then stifle innovation and those who might strive for creativity at an early age. It’s the same for government as well, where an old guard holds back new ideas. William (the windmill maker from Malawi) concurred with this in the fact that people in his village thought he was crazy when he was working to construct his windmills out of what was for all purposes, garbage.
This brought up the fact that there is a point of critical mass where what is seen as new and not to be accepted suddenly becomes commonplace and very much needed. In William’s case, his windmills went from a crazy idea to being able to provide water, electricity as well as a charging station for neighbors’ cellphones. He went from just a regular villager to outright celebrity not only in his village, but also his country, and internationally. Much like when smelting metal, if you reach that point, you can do most anything you want. If you don’t you are stuck with things exactly as they are.
But this point in the conversation brought about what I felt was one of the best questions from the audience. A girl who was trying to work in film making in the US asked a question to the effect of, “How can you convince people to fund your films when they disregard them because of the look?” I assume she was asking in regard to having lower production values on your first films. Naturally for me, in having tried my hand at film making, I know very well how this goes and it’s the same exact problem in the US as it is in Africa.
Rightly so, given the focus of this event, that point didn’t need to be raised as Emeka (the moderator) and others (such as a photographer/filmmaker from Cote d’Ivoire) made two very salient points. First, you need to influence those who can influence others in to believing in your projects. That point is true most everywhere. The second point is a much larger issue which is very true in that Africa should be looking at Africa for a market as Africa understands Africa. A producer from France or the US isn’t going to understand why people are doing what they’re doing in most Nigerian films, but people in Mali or Cameroon or a slew of other countries most likely well.
So in the end, what came out of the discussion was the fact that the model for African innovation and success shouldn’t follow models that are used in US or Europe and that it is the hope people will be able to get connections and encouragement at Maker Faire and other events to make this possible. Following the tail of the Dollar or Euro isn’t going to do much for Africa.
About driving innovation in Africa