Makers’ Paradise and the Jerry!

Agbogbloshie e-waste dump as it is known, and portrayed by the media is more than just that. It is an e-resource repository; a source of valuable raw e-material and a makers’ paradise. On this e-turf, there are several players, whose operations  make it what it is.

Zack is a young e-waste worker. He usually operates in the Agbogbloshie refrigerator trade: buying, selling, dismantling and selling again. The AMP team encountered him over 7 months ago and signed him on as a part of the AMP maker collective.

Zack dismantling a refrigerator during the AMP workshop in Agbogbogbloshie

“Emeka” is a Nigerian migrant to Ghana. He owns and operates a shop out of Agbogbloshie. The shop is well stocked and has a CCTV camera which helps him secure his “goods”. Though the team had been to this side of Agbogbloshie, this was the first time we were meeting him in person.

What do all these people have in common? Computers!!

As part of the AMPQAMP at the Kokrobite Institute, AMP hackers and/or STEAM students and graduates, collaborated with hackers from the Woelab (Togo’s very active makerspace!) to build a Jerry. A Jerry is a computer that is made with parts from old computers assembled in a jerrycan. This workshop was significant, mainly due to the transfer of knowledge which occurred during the assembly process. As part of this highly didactic process, a team comprising makers from both AMP and Woelab visited Agbogbloshie.

Inside Agbogbloshie, the team first encountered a computer shop. It was well stocked and able to provide a wide range of old computer parts owned and run by Emeka. During the interviews and interaction with the e-waste workers in Agbogbloshie, the AMP team discovered that, Nigerians formed a critical part of the ecosystem in Agbogbloshie.  A network that virtually spans the entire globe.

Subsequently, the team met with Zack, an e-waste worker, who is part of the AMP maker collective. Several weeks earlier, the AMP team had discovered much to our surprise that Zack whom we knew only as an expert in the commerce and dismantling of old fridges in Agbogbloshie and who had helped us with our workshop in fridge disassembly, was also a self taught computer repairer. He was comfortable enough to ask us which parts we needed, and proceeded to test them for us by connecting each in turn to his personal computer. The level of fruitful interaction had with him, points to the phenomenal possibilities that a fully operational maker collective (comprising STEAM professionals and e-waste workers) in Agbogbloshie would unleash.

Back at the Kokrobite institute, the Woelab team, led by Rhode Audrey and Martine Pandam together with the AMP team led by Daniel started to assemble the Jerry computer.  We first produced schematic sketches and then marked out and cut the JerryCan. We then  placed the components:  first the mother board, then the hard drives, then the cables, the power pack and finally the CD-ROM. In all, it was a very exciting experience. The excitement has spurred the AMP team on to explore further design possibilities. The team is advancing ideas such as the solar JerryTop: recovered laptop parts in a Jerrycan powered by recovered solar cells.

All hands on deck during Jerry computer workshop.

These we believe can serve as a means of providing cheap computers in rural areas and in deprived urban contexts and can go a long way to improve computer literacy in Ghana and Africa as a whole. This is one of those projects where hackers like Zack in Agbogbloshie and STEAM professionals like Daniel from the creativity group in KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology) could collaborate. In the few moments where language was a barrier, both teams communicated via the language of computers and making, which are both universal. Thanks to Yasmine (AMP co-pi) and Rejoice ( psychology intern and maker), such moments were minimized, as they took turns to translate.

In the end, there was a handing over ceremony where the team from Togo handed over the Jerry’s to the AMP team, signifying a transfer of technology.

Internal arrangement of components in Jerry Computer
Laptop dissection - Daniel with Woelab crew
Laptop dissection – Daniel with Woelab crew
The transfer of the Jerrys from Woelab to AMP

ArchiCAMP 2013

L’Africaine d’Architecture and WɔɛLab have published the work of ArchiCAMP 2013. Fascinating implications for Africa’s retro-future, DIY and hacker culture.

From the jury statement:

The entire group deserves citation for this initiative to empower people to transform their living environment through technology. The results of this year’s Archicamp –– built on the conceptualization of a year ago, and building toward actualization one year hence –– validate the model, supported by Woelab, of an African urban environment which brings together traditional knowledge and the ethics of hacker culture.

We applaud your dedication to the project of organizing youth in a pan-African context to meld craftsmanship with locally-fabricated tools for the digital age. We commend l’Africaine d’Architecture for the Hub Cité initiative and its visionary effort to show the transformative power of “low-high tech”. The level of production and quality of architectural concepts presented by all three groups, at the conclusion of the three weeks-long collaboration of this year’s Archicamp, deserves special mention…

…As the participants and organizers of Archicamp 2013 look forward to building the first node of Hub Cite next year, we recommend taking the best ideas of all three projects and (re)combine them at smaller scale. In our estimation, the greatest strength of the initiative is that it seeks to produce an urban interface that connects people with technology, in order to amplify their interaction with(in) the city. Thus it is critical not only to scale individual architectural interventions correctly, but also to maintain the larger vision of reprogramming the entire city: Ultimately, the project is “global” in that it should be able to unfold simultaneously across many sites in Lome and beyond. If the goal, then, is to make manifest a popularly digital urban environment, then leveraging the power of demonstrating technology, “weaving” architecture, making “nets” and integrating architecture and landscape should prove ground-breaking.

As the jury of Archicamp 2013, we propose that along-side the twin pillars of culturally-informed craftmanship (art of making) and socially-conscious hacker ethics (make better and share how), next year’s initiative can most gain from this year’s by calibrating prototypes to the size of micro-architecture conceived as open-source electronic devices. We contend that the Hub Cite project is profoundly important for Togo, West Africa and the continent at large –– and eagerly anticipate the pan-African retro-future that Archicamp continues to realize.

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