Everywhere I go in Africa, I see new things, inventions, innovative solutions to challenges that many of us face and those that are more particular to the context. I’m often frustrated by the common media narrative of a continent that needs the inventions developed in other countries. On the contrary, I find myself reflecting how Africa is so much further ahead in so many areas – e-money, plastic-free countries, digital solutions, children’s toys, recycling, transportation, banking, you name it.
It’s no surprise really. For millennia, Africa has been inventing and exporting knowledge and technology that’s changed the world. The oldest known mathematical object, the Lebombo bone dating back 37,000 years, was found in the Lebombo mountains of what is today Eswatini. Mathematics as we know it – addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, the calculation of area and volume – traces its origins to ancient Egypt 35,000 years ago. The Great Pyramids of Giza (Egypt) are widely known, yes. But across Africa stand testimonies to architectural and engineering feats in so many styles and materials from the great stone cities in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, to the 13th century universities, grand palaces and mosques in Timbuktu (Mali), the stunning medieval Aksumite architecture in Lalibela (Ethiopia) and the citadels, mosques and aqueducts of Somalia, Metallurgy and toolmaking in Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda, medicine, astronomy, speech and so much more have origins in Africa.
Today, young Africans are leading a new wave of innovation, adapting and developing digital and creative solutions to tackle the impact of climate change, increase equity and deliver services more efficiently. To each challenge, they bring an in-depth knowledge of context, a drive to maximise the power of technology, an entrepreneurial spirit and relationships.
Launched by the Royal Academy of Engineering (UK) in 2014, the Africa Prize aims to stimulate, celebrate and reward engineering entrepreneurship in Africa. This article from the Mail & Guardian of South Africa presents each of the 16 finalists for the 2019 Africa Prize competition. These solutions are ingenious and so relevant to real life problems in Africa and much further beyond.
Do take a moment to read the article. It’s a short read and well worth it for seeing Africa in a different light.
Have you come across an inspiring innovation led by someone from Africa that you’d like to share?