Tech Talk: A Pan-African Palace for Makers

Living in 2019, one cannot deny, comes with its benefits.

Benefits like Uber, Airbnb, electric scooters, drones, and smartphones. Depending on where you are and who you know, you may have heard of something called a 3D printer.

3D Printer:

a machine that allows the creation of a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model. It is done typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession.

3D printers have drastically changed the game since their arrival on the scene.

Before the wonderful invention of 3D printers, designing hardware teams would have to wait weeks on end to have a mold for one component made and shipped. So really slow & really expensive. Now with the arrival of 3D printers; designers and engineers alike can rapidly prototype & print parts from the comfort of their workspace.

The Makerspace, a Maker’s Natural Habitat.


a place in which people with shared interests, especially in computing or technology, can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge.

As with fingers; not all makerspaces are created equally. Not all makerspaces are equipped with the same tools. However, it is important to remember inanimate objects do not provide real validation. There is controversy about what equipment makes a makerspace a “real” one. But that is besides the point. So what is the point? Holding space for the problem solvers of a population to design, create, and reiterate their solutions.

Virtual Field Trip: GearBox

A visit to will aquaint you with Kenya’s first makerspace.

It’s the brainchild of Kamau Gachigi (@KamauFabLab), Gearbox seeks to promote local hardware innovation & manufacturing.

Kamau Gachigi has a TED talk: Success stories from Kenya’s first makerspace, & in it Gachigi shares his story from humble beginnings as a child in Kenya, to him seeking better education opportunities in the UK & US, as well as an international career in R&D (research and development) for a large firm.

Upon returning back home and joining the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Nairobi, I quickly found I was really quite useless, because there wasn’t all the equipment that I had become accustomed to available. I was teaching students who I would find with very bright ideas in their minds and they’d be presenting things that I knew if only we had sufficient equipment, they’d be able to really contribute to the challenge of industrialization. So I kind of had to change hats, and became quite entrepreneurial and started looking for money to buy the equipment that we required. 

Kamau Gachigi Success stories from Kenya’s first makerspace

Kamau championed the campaign for a new space at the University of Nairobi. After some fundraising, students now had a place to design and rapidly produce prototype parts. What happened after was magic & the whole purpose of this blog post.

So you can imagine my surprise when one day the dean of engineering came and said to me, “Kamau, the students who spend most of the time in the Fab Lab are failing their exams.” I said, “What do you mean?” And I looked into it, and he was right, and the reason they were failing is that they’d honed their skills so well in certain things that they were going out into the city and offering services for money. So they were making money.

Kamau Gachigi Success stories from Kenya’s first makerspace

This makerspace was adding value to the community through students that spent most of their time learning how use the machines. Kamau’s former head of engineering has been able to secure a contract building an industrial machine that will be used to manufacture parts for General motors. An example of how a makerspace can have a real impact on a countries economy.

This also brings the popular millenial debate to the forefront.

Is college in fact a scam?

Culture Correct Solutions.

Gearbox is complete with various culture correct solutions for culture specific needs. From tech support, to a wide variety of training courses, Gearbox aims to equip as many as are willing to learn with skills to add value within their community.

The makerspace has given birth to various startups tackling problems from energy and waste management, to sanitary towel vending and pregnancy trackers.

It truly is a beautiful thing to see people of the culture, design, create, and implement solutions to their local problems! We hope to see this idea at scale across the entire continent in the near future.

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