LAST week I wrote about a young man who made a ‘wire excavator’ out of scrap and waste materials, and some people read the piece and took it a step further.
Within hours of the newspaper hitting the streets and the online version going up, phone calls, SMSs and WhatsApp messages came flowing, along with confirmation that Ngwedo is indeed a village in Buliisa, and the young man actually exists.
A number of people voluntarily provided information and the RDC of Buliisa, Peter Busoborwa, agreed to get onto the case. But Patrick Mbonye, a friend who runs a very serious-minded human resource operation, Q-Sourcing, moved much faster as is expected of the private sector.
Within days, he had tracked the young man down and found that his name is Patrick Onyuti and he stopped school in senior three because he had a serious epileptic condition that the school was not comfortable with!
That school could deserve to be de-registered for being so poor at education, and that’s another reason why everyone I spoke to about that boy’s story agreed that putting him into our education pipelines would be a wrong move to make.
One amusing (though unfair) argument put forward was that no Engineering Graduate had produced a wire car or excavation truck in spite of all the education they had accumulated, yet this young man had done so in his humble circumstances.
That is not entirely true, even though the sentiment behind that argument was understandable.
Professor Tickodri-Togboa once told us that getting children to play with toys was important for engineering and scientific development, and was part of the reason for the Kiira EV car and solar Kayoola bus projects.
Someone who seemed to have no idea about these projects presented another argument point: “Why don’t we task First-Year Engineering students to make wire cars and other such things as part of their projects?”
It may sound simplistic, but one Engineering graduate from Makerere University explained to me how he wished his course had gone, having observed the education process elsewhere:
After a few months of learning In the first year of their four-year course, all students should be required to pick a project they should work on for the duration of their course.
The project should be judged sensible enough to be implementable in real life, and should be managed by the Engineering Professors or Lecturers as Chief Executive Officers, supervising every step of implementation while ensuring the students are learning while making a difference to the world.
A wire excavation truck would have been a fantastic project, even for a student of Engineering, if they justified it well – recycling waste, creation of education aids by which rural children would learn engineering principles, and so on and so forth.
The projects, this student went on, would only graduate after his or her project is released into the world and accepted in one way or another.
As I said, some of the arguments about Uganda’s engineers were not really fair. For instance, just a couple of weeks ago we had a couple of Engineering graduates from Makerere University emerging as finalists in the 2016 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.
This Prize was founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, which is as grand as it sounds, and “celebrates engineers who have developed innovations that will benefit Africans”.
The boys were profiled in the famous Forbes magazine’s online edition, and received great applause there even though over here we are yet to recognise them appropriately.
One of them is Edmand ‘Eddie’ Aijuka, who graduated as an electrical engineer and submitted to the Royal Academy of Engineering his invention called Kamata, which is designed to prevent electricity theft (this is NOT the reason why he is not being lauded here!), and another is Edward Kiyimba.
According to the report, he stumbled upon the realisation that electricity theft was a big problem when he visited an electricity company for a research project.
“After that visit, he couldn’t stop thinking about it, and so set out to investigate where along the supply all of this electricity was being siphoned off. When he realized that most of it was stolen through the tampering of electricity meters, Eddie knew he needed to find a solution.”
That is inspiration.
He and his colleague came up with Kamata (swahili for “catch”), which is a small device installed just outside the meter box, that constantly measures the current flowing through the mains cables. If it detects an attempt to bypass or tamper with the meter, it cuts power and sends the GPS coordinates, customer name and details of the ‘interference’ to the supplier. Kamata also stops the meter owner from rebooting it, and ensures that supply can only be reconnected remotely by the provider.
His motivation for solving this problem was his childhood experiences in the village, where electricity was expensive and unaffordable as well as inaccessible, and the realisation that one of the major reasons was electricity theft.
Even in the United States, the article says, electricity theft is the third largest form of theft!
So it is possible that these young engineers from Uganda’s Makerere University might have come up with an invention that might be installed all around the world and solve a global problem.
Will the relevant government ministries, or the Private Sector Foundation or the Export Promotion Board or somebody wise enough to see the possibilities here, kindly reach out and act to make this happen? Or should you and I and another Patrick Mbonye reach out and do it for Kamata?