Mansa Musa (1280 – 1337)


He is the richest man to ever exist on this planet & you may have heard about him in a rap lyric from 
Jay-Z himself on “Mood 4 Eva”. More popularly known as Mansa Musa stories about this emir from the 14th century continues to live on. When Musa took over the throne from his predecessor, the Malian Empire consisted of territory previously owned by the Ghana Empire, present-day Southern Mauritania and in Melle(Mali) including the immediate surrounding areas
The Mali Empire, created by Sundiata Kieta was the largest & wealthiest empire West Africa has seen yet. Mansa was the grand nephew of Sundiata. The Empire amassed riches through being a trade hub; trade routes between the mediterranean & the southern coast of west Africa.
Salt was a major commodity traded in the north while the south brought about gold & ivory. Mansa was the Malian title meaning king. Mansa Musa was a devout muslim. Most indigenous rulers adopted Islam from interacting with Arab merchants & as a result, the Mali Empire played a huge role in the spread of Islam across West Africa. Under Musa’s rule the Mali Empire grew & extended making it only second in size compared to the Mongol Empire at the time. The Mali Empire controlled lands up to the Gambia & lower Senegal. Mansa Musa was able to maintain Mali’s vast empire with the help of a talented general;  Saran Mandian, &  an army numbering around 100,000 men, including an armored cavalry corps of 10,000 horses. He divided the Empire into provinces with each one ruled by a farba (governor) appointed by Musa. The Mali Empire grew in wealth through taxes on trade, they controlled copper & gold mines. The economic standing of the Malian people grew too. The outside world was yet to hear about Mansa Musa until, like many devout muslims, he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 CE. In July of that year Musa arrived to Cairo & evidence of this wealth caused an absolute sensation, when he arrived to Egypt the Sultan was astonished. Mansa Musa gave 50,000 gold dinars to the Sultan of Egypt merely as a first-meeting gesture. Some accounts say Mansa Musa’s camel caravan consisted of 100 camels, each carrying 135 kilos (300 pounds) of gold dust while 500 slaves each brandished a 2.7 kilo (6 pounds) gold staff, in addition to hundreds of other camels loaded down with foodstuffs & textiles, & horse riders waving the huge red & gold banners of the king. After Cairo, Musa travelled to Arabia. There he purchased land & houses so that pilgrims from Mali following his footsteps would have a place to stay. The King was so inspired by the holy sites & architecture that once he returned to Mali he built a dazzling audience chamber at Niani & mosques at Gao & Timbuktu. The Djinguereber Mosque still stands today in Timbuktu, Mali. The University of Sankoré, still standing, was also created, as Musa was also influenced by the universities he saw along his pilgrimage. He brought back to Mali books & scholars, staffing the University of  Sankoré with jurists, astronomers & mathematicians. By the end of his reign the university had been fully staffed with the largest collections of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandrai. Mansa Musa sent native religious scholars to Fez in Morocco to learn what they could & then return to Mali as teachers. Mansa Musa was succeeded by his 1st son Mansa Maghan I after his death in 1337. 
Mansa Musa’s wealth adjusted for inflation was said to be a fortune of $400 billion.


The Mau Mau Uprising (1952-1960)


A quick summary of the Mau Mau uprising. Some articles call it a rebellion. How does one rebel on their own land? 
When the colonizers got their grubby eyes on modern day Kenya, they implemented the colonizer 101 plan. Stole “occupied” up to 7 million acres of land, brought in British colonizers to hold space, & made the people of the land wear ID badges around their neck to display their various ethnic group. This was a means of control as identification cards are usually used to regulate oppression to the oppressed.

The British implemented Hut taxes. Whenever Kenyans built huts on their land, they paid the price worth of 2 months labour. Kenyans were only allowed to plant crops for sustainability on their own land, not anything that could be commodified; so no crops that could compete with the British intruders. The British also appointed chiefs loyal to their cause, keeping them happy through bribery while the chiefs in return helped maintain colonial control. Due to the inherent greediness of the colonizers, they occupied more land than they could actually oversee or manage, it wasn’t unusual for Kikuyu people; who made up 20% of Kenyan’s population, to “squat” in areas unmanaged by the stingy settlers granted, they share their profits with the British if the Kikuyu used such areas for farming.

Many Kenyans fought in “World” War 11, they came back to Kenya hoping for better treatment from the colonizers after their sacrifice, how wrong they were. Jomo Kenyetta of the Kenya African Union (KAU) was one of the people pressing the British government in vain for the political rights of the Kenyan people & land reform. Naturally, the British were slow to action & blinded by their greed. In 1952, a much more radical group called the Kenya Land & Freedom Army (KLFA) emerged just as militant as the British. They were also known as the Mau Mau. 
It consisted mainly of Kikuyu fighters including some Embu & Meru recruits, with some units of Kamba & Maasai people. They wanted the British out! Rightfully so. Attacking political opponents & destroying the invaders livestock. The Mau Mau took oaths binding themselves to the cause. In October 1952, the British declared a state of emergency bring in army reinforcements to fight against the Mau Mau supporters, arresting Kenyetta & 180 other alleged Mau Mau leaders. They portrayed the uprising as “a barbaric tribal response to the pressures of modernization”. The colonizers recruited & press-ganged some Kenyans to fight for the Kikuyu  Home Guard , which used oppressive violence as a means of population control. The British rewarded the guards when they pillaged the properties of the Mau Mau, creating a divide & rule dynamic. The Kikuyu that “had” were pro-British & the “have-nots” were for the revolution. The colonizers strategically resettled Kikuyu in villages.

The primary zones of Mau Mau military strength were the Aberdares & the forest around mount Kenya, the British reacted with aerial warfare, dropping nearly 6 million bombs between 18 November 1953 until July 28th, 1955. They detained up to 100,000 Kikuyu without trial, where they were tortured & brutalized for periods between 3 & 7 years. The uprising was said to be at a steady decline on October 21, 1956, after the capture of field marshal Dedan Kimathi the leader of the KLFA. By November 10, 1959 the state of emergency ended in Kenya, The death toll for the Mau Mau activist killed by the British forces in Kenya since 1952 was said to be at 10,173.

In 1961, Jomo Kenyetta was released & African nationalist leaders agreed to take a role in Kenya’s government.
Kenyan got her independence on December 12, 1963; 7 years after the notorious uprising that many believe was the catalyst for decolonization. In 2013 the British government issued an apology for the brutal tactics they used to suppress the uprising & agreed to pay about  £20 million pounds in compensation to the surviving victims they abused.  

Frantz Fanon (1925 – 1961)


They realize at last that change does not mean reform, that change does not mean improvement.” 

Frantz Fanon was born on July 20th, 1925. On the Caribbean island of Martinique, which was a French colony but is now being described as a “single territorial collectivity”. This means, according to the French constitution of 1958, “provides” -the island- local autonomy within limits prescribed by law. 
Fanon’s intellect & unique life experiences set him up to be an important voice in 20th century philosophy. Fanon was born into a well-off middle class family with 7 siblings. Due to Fanon’s family’s socio-economical class, his parents were able to afford him the opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious high-schools’ then in Martinique; Lycée Schoelcher. There, Fanon was influenced by his school teacher, legendary French poet & writer; Aimé Césaire. Césaire was said to be one of the founders of the négritude movement in Francophone literature. Négritude is a literary movement popularized in the 1930s, 40s & 50s that began among French-speaking African & Caribbean writers living in Paris, as a protest against French colonial rule & the policy of assimilation. Frantz Fanon went on ahead to be a huge champion for the movement later in his life. Lepold Sédar Senghor, Senegal’s 1st elected president, was also at the forefront of the Négritude movement. 
At the young age of 18, Fanon left the island, joining the Free French forces during World War II. Fanon took note of the severe racism against Black people he was exposed to during the war. Giving the example of  white women preferring to dance with fascists Italian prisoners, than associate with the Black soldiers who liberated them. 
Sad. For them. In 1945, he shortly returned to Martinique. Working with his mentor Aimé Césaire & completing his baccalaureate, before heading on to the University of Lyon, in France, to secure a degree in medicine & psychiatry. One of Fanon’s earliest work; Black Skin, White Masks was actually a rejected doctoral dissertation. It was Entitled; Essay on the Desalination of the Black. It was a response to all the racism he experienced in Lyon while pursing his degrees. Psychoanalyzing the oppressed Black person, living in a white world where they are perceived as less than & how they navigate the world through a performance of whiteness. He later submitted another dissertation on a narrower subject to gain his doctor of philosophy degree but proceeded to publish the turned-down manuscript while completing his residency in psychiatry at Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole, in the south of France. In 1953, Fanon moved to Algeria, accepting the position as a psychiatrist at Blida-Joinville Psychiatric Hospital. He was said to have “radical” methods of treatments; using socio-therapy in order to connect with his patients’ cultural backgrounds, training nurses & interns. Fanon was appalled by the differences of the living standard between European colonizers & the indigenous people. Specifically, the racism Algerians experienced in their own home land. November 1954, was the outbreak of the Algerian Revolt. Being that he worked for a French hospital in Algeria, Fanon was responsible for catering to the psychological distress of the French soldiers & officers who tortured Algerians as a means to suppress the anti-colonial resistance, also while treating Algerian torture victims. It was then he quickly realized he could no longer support the French effort. In 1956, Fanon quit his job at the hospital & joined the Front de Libération Nationale, moving to Tunis to found the magazine; El Moudjahid (Freedom Fighter). 
In 1960, Fanon served as ambassador to Ghana for the Provisional Algerian Government (GPRA). This same year, he was diagnosed with the dreaded leukemia. When Fanon wasn’t confined to his bed due to his illness, he delivered lectures to officers on the Algero-Tunisian border.
 In his work “The Wretched of Earth” Fanon argued the deep connection between colonialism & the mind. Proposing violent revolution against colonial control that must be combined with rebuilding national culture. We wonder what his thoughts on gentrification would have been. Fanon passed away on December 6th, 1961, in Bethesda, Maryland. Shortly after he travelled to the US in hopes to receive advance treatment for his illness. He inspires & leaves us with a whole lot to ponder on.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (1938 – Present)



Ngũgĩ was born on January 5th, 1938, in Kamiriithu near Limuru in Kiambu district, Kenya. He is of Kikuyu descent. Ngũgĩ grew to witness the Mau Mau Uprising A.K.A The Kenya Emergency. An 8-year-long war, beginning in 1952, between the Kenya Land Freedom Army (KLFA) & the white european colonizers. The KLFA mostly consisted of the Kikuyu people, Meru people & the Embu people, as well as many others. Ngũgĩ ‘s half-brother Mwangi was an active member of the KLFA. Ngũgĩ’s mother was tortured in the Kikuyu Home Guard, sanctioned by the colonial government. It was named after the British Home Guard, formed by the colonizers in response to the revolutionary push during the Kenya Emergency. 30% of the Kikuyu Home Guard members were press-ganged into joining & it was purposefully intended to be divisive as it had the appearance of a Kikuyu led initiative. He was baptized James Ngugi & attended Alliance High School, later enrolling as a student in Makerere University College, Kampala, Uganda. 
In May 1964, Ngũgĩ debuted his first novel; Weep Not, Child. It was the 1st novel in English to be published by a writer from East Africa. It followed the life of a Kikuyu family & their story in the struggle for Kenyan independence during the state of emergency & the Mau  Mau uprising. Later in the year, Ngũgĩ scored a scholarship to the University of Leeds, so he travelled to England to bag an MA. There, Ngũgĩ wrote his second novel; The River Between, currently on Kenya’s national secondary school syllabus. Ngũgĩ never completed his thesis at Leeds. It was on Caribbean literature. In 1967, Ngũgĩ published A Grain of Wheat. It marked a change of his ideology  & teaching, with Ngũgĩ renouncing Christianity & embracing Fanonist Marxism. He began to write in his native tongue; Gikuyu, & Swahili. In this same year, he began to teach at The University of Nairobi as a professor of English literature, where he initiated the conversation to change the name of the English literature department to just literature. Aimed to reflect studying other literature in other languages. Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) co-written with Ngũgĩ wa Mirii in Kikuyu in 1977,  was the play that earned Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o the title of political prisoner. The play provoked the then Kenyan Vice-President Daniel arap Moi, who immediately ordered Thiong’o’s arrest, subsequently leading to Ngũgĩ spending roughly a year in the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. There he had an epiphany. The 1st thing the oppressor does is tear the people away from their spoken language, from then Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o decided to stop writing his plays & other works in English all together. He wrote his 1st modern novel; Devil on the Cross, in Gikuyu, on prison-issued toilet paper. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was released in December 1978. Unfortunately, his teaching job as a professor at the Nairobi University wasn’t waiting for him. Thiong’o & his family were forced into exile soon after. Due to his writing about the injustices of the dictatorial government at the time. He returned to Kenya with his family on August 8 2004 as part of a month-long East African tour. On August 11, robbers broke into his high-security apartment assaulting Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o & sexually assaulting his wife; Njeeri. They also stole various valuable items. 
The attack was rumored to be politically motivated. 
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o & his family fled back to the US after the unfortunate incident. Some other notable works of his is a co-written play; The Black Hermit & his prison diary; Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. 
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o sought to liberate the theatrical process  from what he deemed “the general bourgeois education system”. He encouraged spontaneity & audience participation during performances. He sought to avoid the “process of alienation [that] produces a gallery of active stars & an undifferentiated mass of grateful admirers”.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o inspires. 

Vera Mlangazua Chirwa (1932-Present)


Maybe I looked like a girl, but I was a 27-year-old mother of three, and I spoke my mind. I think that must have shaken them a bit: an African woman who could understand things, talk sense and find words and reasons for the resentment she felt when confronted by injustice.

 Her journey started in 1932. In Nyasaland. Modern day Malawi. Vera was born to the Ngoni ethnic group. Her middle name “Mlangazua’ roughly translates to truth. She paid dearly for this self fulfilling prophecy, later. Both of Vera’s grandparents were reverends. Her paternal grandparent was the first ordained reverend in the land. Her father was a ‘medical officer’. Vera was always said to have an assertive spirit, her first documented inkling of it was when she refused to be relegated to the position of dishwasher as a child, opposing her grandmother.
In 1951, Vera fell in love with Orton Chirwa. Orton was a teacher & a political activist, although he was 13-years older, the couple got hitched. Orton also established the first Black law practice in Nyasaland. Around this time too Vera Chirwa joined forces with Rose Chibambo forming the Nyasaland African Women’s League. This congress helped Nyasaland gain separation from the unpopular Federation of Rhodesia & Nyasaland; which were described as ‘self-governing’ British colonies. In 1959, Vera Chirwa became the first woman lawyer in Nyasaland & a founding member of the Malawi Congress Party. Nyasaland gained self-government in 1961, 2 years later it became the independent state of Malawi with Orton Chirwa as Minister of Justice & Attorney General in the new government. All sounds great right? Wrong! This was when the sticky situation commenced. You see, Kumuzu Banda was President of Malawi. After a while he began to proclaim himself as the “president for life” an authoritarian. The Chirwas wanted nothing to do with this, demanding a real democratic government because of this they were dubbed enemies of the state, forced into exile in Tanzania.They lived there for a while, traveling abroad & to neighboring countries. Unfortunately, in 1981, on Christmas eve Vera & Orton Chirwa were kidnapped by Malawian security forces in the East of Zambia. They were taken back to Malawi to face charges of high treason. Continuing the unjust theme the Chirwas were not given any due process & were tried by a “traditional’ court, in which the both lawyers had to defend themselves as defense lawyers weren’t admissible in traditional court. The trial lasted for 2 months with the judges appointed by Kumuzu Banda. Despite the uncanny lack of evidence the Chirwas were both sentenced to death. The Chirwas tried to appeal their case, citing lack of evidence & the tampering with Orton Chirwa’s statement by the police however their efforts were shot down. Vera Chirwa spent 12 years in prison & her husband; Orton died in it. She only saw him once, 8 years into their sentence in 1992, when a delegation of British legal experts were allowed to pay them a visit. Orton died 3 weeks later, in his cell at the age of 73. Vera was not allowed to attend his funeral. On January 24, 1993 Kumuzu Banda pardoned Chirwa for “humanitarian reasons”. Malawi was transitioning to a multi-party state & his long rule had come to an end. Being a political prisoner only stocked Vera Chirwa’s passion for activism. In 2000, she was made the Special Reporter for Prisons in Africa. She founded 2 NGOs called Women’s voice & the Malawi Centre for Advice, Research & Education on Rights. She is also Malawi’s first woman presidential candidate. Vera Chirwa suffered many hardships in the span of her unlawful imprisonment, this included torture, sleeping on the cement floor & even being denied the right to go outside. She didn’t let it break her spirit though & because of this, neither can ours. She inspires. 

Florence “Flo-Jo” Griffith Joyner (1959-1998)


Conventional is not for me, I like things that are uniquely Flo. I like being different


Also known as Flo-Jo or that girl cause it’s what she is. The fastest woman of all time & even Beyoncé knows; paying homage to the field & track athlete last October. Born in Los Angeles, California, Florence Delorez Griffith was the 7th child of 11. Her mother was a seamstress & her father an electronic engineer. Florence’s interest in the field was piqued from a young age. In elementary school she joined the Sugar Ray Robinson Organization, running in track meets on weekends. Years later; in 2000 the 102nd Street School in L.A was renamed Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School.
Talk about life’s foreshadowing!
At the age of  14 & 15 consecutively Florence won the Jesse Owens National Youth Games two years in a row.
As a high school senior in 1978, Florence finished sixth at the CIF California State Meet. Showing an early interest in fashion she begged her teammates to wear tights with their uniforms.
Before graduating, Florence set high school records for sprinting & long jump. When it was time for college Florence attended the California State University at North Ridge. She was on the track team coached by Bob Kersee. This team won the national championship during Griffith’s 1st year! Unfortunately, after this Florence had to drop out of college, securing a job as a bank teller to help financially support her family. In 1980 Florence returned to college. This time to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), thanks to her skills & her coach who didn’t forget her; Bob Kersee.
In UCLA  Kersee was a coach. Griffith qualified for the 100-meter final at the trials for the 1980 Summer Olympics, in an unexpected curveball the U.S  decided to boycott that year’s Olympic Games. However, in 1983  Griffith did graduate with her bachelor’s in psychology. After college Griffith took a load off her running plate. She basically did it part-time, still breaking notable records, like the 100m IAAF Grand Prix Final. She got married to Al Joyner, the Olympic triple jump champion of 1984, in 1987. This same year, she returned to athletics, finishing 2nd at the 1987 World Championships in Rome, only 4 months after! Before the 1988 U.S Olympic Trials Griffith-Joyner continued to work with her coach Kersee twice a week & with her husband coaching three days in a week. During the 1988 U.S Olympic Trials Griffith-Joyner recorded the 3 fastest times for a woman at 100 meters: 10.49 in the quarter-final, 10.70 in the semi-final, & 10.61 in the finals. At the same Olympic trials Griffith-Joyner also set an American record at the 200-meter distance with a time of 21.77 secs.
Whew! The Black girl magic jumped out.
After the Olympic Trials Flo-Jo parted ways with her longtime coach, leaving her husband as her full-time coach. In the 1988 Summer Olympic Flo-Jo ran 10.54 secs in a 100m final. She set a world record on the 200m semifinal of 21.56 secs. Breaking it, her own record; in the final, with a time of 21.34 secs. Flo-Jo’s team also won the 4 x 100 m relay. She won 4 Olympic medals that year. & in 1989, Flo-Jo announced her retirement from running. Her sense of style was another reason why she was exceptional. While other athletes would wear their hair shorter & avoid jewelry to as remain at light weight on the field, Flo- Jo expressed herself. She designed most of her fits herself. Known for her funky track wears. A popular one was dubbed the “one-legger”. Flo-Jo loved her nails long, rocking bright colors or stripes on them every chance she got. She was a artist & a painter & some of her work is displayed as part of the Art of The Olympians. Unfortunately, in 1988, Flo-Jo passed away. She was just 38. After the birth of her child the athlete was said to have been suffering from serious seizures that later claimed her life. Her world records still stands till today. In 1995, Flo-Jo was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of fame.

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.