Technology and the future of Africa

September 28th, 2016

Winning Entry of Practical Action Strategy Contest

In June 2016,  in partnership with the International Institute of Environment and Water, 2IE, Practical Action launched a contest called “Fit for Future.” Intended primarily for students of the Institute, this competition was to involve them in strategic thinking about the future of Practical Action in a decade.

Launched on June 23, 2016, the candidates were invited to submit their ideas and contributions in different forms and to submit them to Practical Action.  A total of 22 contributions were received by the closing date. After analysis, Practical Action has selected two papers for publication and the winning contribution was chosen. This blog is the winning entry by:

2 (2)Ms. MAATCHI Audrey NTAFAM: Master of Engineering, Infrastructure and Hydraulic Networks (IRH) HYDRAULIC ENGINEER from Cameroon.

The runner up was awarded to Mr Ibrahim NEYA: water engineering design and environmental engineer 2iE electrical and power engineering option (EGE) from Burkina Faso. You can read his entry here.

The award 80,000 CFA award was presented to Maatchi on 2nd September 2016 at 2IE.


“… Africa must broaden its knowledge and skills in science and technology. Whether it’s to increase agricultural productivity or energy production, to improve efficiency and accessibility of ICT services or to provide skilled workers for the extractive industries, it is absolutely essential to strengthen our human capital in science and technology…” (Makhtar Diop, 2014).

Practical Action has anticipated this issue and worked on it for the last 50 years, with a strategic vision to continue to do even more. This vision, based on technology justice, should be used to arouse a desire for research, creativity and innovation among young people, who constitute an inexhaustible potential for the future of Africa. Indeed since technology is the future, the training of young Africans in science, technology and mathematics must be strengthened.

This can be achieved through research and development programmes initiated by Practical Action in partnership with schools and universities, training and research centres, and youth associations. One way for example, as currently happens in some French schools, is to give groups of say 3 students the task of developing an innovative, feasible idea.

Examples might be:

  • To set up software to track crops on smallholder farms or monitor pregnancies
  • To design closed systems so that farmers reuse crop residues and waste as fertilizer for the next crop, and so on.

The best idea is rewarded not necessarily financially, but by monitoring the practical implementation of the idea. Another way is to organise challenges, contests which enable young people to show their talents and for the winners to turn their ideas into action. This challenge open to students of 2iE, for the best ideas for a strategic vision of Practical Action, is an example of this.

Practical Action should focus its initiatives on an increasing scale, ranging from the youngest elementary school pupils to adults, accompanying all who not have means to achieve their ambitions. Access for the poorest and for young girls, to quality training must be improved. Many rural establishments have no laboratories or libraries. Practical Action could work in partnership with local authorities to establish exchange systems to enable the best students to move to the city to complete their training. A culture of technology must begin at the grassroots level. This means fostering in the very youngest, a taste for creativity oriented towards clean development; producing films in partnership with people in positions of authority and local elites, showing how to make organic fertilizer from water hyacinth, design autonomous irrigation systems or solar powered water supplies.

Moreover Practical Action should direct its policy to look at how to increase project financing by local elites. Experience shows that African elites do not have much involvement in funding social initiatives. Organising competitions in their name may help to win their support, as they are being held up as role models for the younger generation. One example of this is the “Aliko Dangote Prize” which focuses on the topic of greener production of cement and on sharing experiences.

Practical Action promotes inclusive development, one of the pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals. This is a major advantage because almost all emerging countries (in sub Saharan Africa in this case) have aligned themselves with this goal. Proposing to governments and donors, actions to strengthen the capacity of rural people, such as participatory support for agricultural initiatives, providing electricity (solar panels), teaching techniques for transforming, recycling and reusing waste, will leverage their desire to fund them.

As President Macky Sall (2016) said: “Science, technology, mathematics and innovation, used in the service of the community, can contribute to finding solutions to the major problems of Africa such as food insecurity, the energy crisis, poverty, climate change and public health. ”

By Audrey Maatchi, Student of Master in Engineering (Option Water) at 2iE, 
Winner of Fit for Future Competition

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