Four African innovators selected for engineering innovation prize

The four finalists are:

  • Dr. Askwar Hilonga from Tanzania for his low-cost sustainable water filtration system: a sand-based water filter based on nanotechnology. Each nanofilter is bespoke, and absorbs the contaminants that are present in a specific body of water — from heavy materials or minerals like copper and fluoride to biological containments such as bacteria and pesticides.
    It is essentially a modernized version of the sand-filtration methods used to purify water.
    “Thanks to step-by-step guidance and support from mentors in the Africa Prize, I was able to approach funders. The many insights gained from my training are opening doors for the project.”
  • Ernst Pretorius from South Africa for a fence-mounted security system which warns owners of fires or intruders. The “Fencesitter” detects tampering on fences up to 800m long. Fences cannot be tampered with, taken down or the device moved without raising an alarm.
    “The Africa Prize prompted me to reconsider my business plan and identify prototype functionalities I’d never thought of. I will always be grateful to the Royal Academy of Engineering for organizing the prize,” said Pretorius.
    “I have been inundated with requests for information on the Fencesitter system, and see the device helping many people protect their livestock and wildlife across the continent.”
  • Musenga Silwawa and team from Zambia for their spot fertilizer applicator, an agricultural solution for small-scale farmers. Applying fertilizer to crops by hand results in inconsistent application. It is also time-consuming, often requiring a big labor force, and has health implications for workers.
    The fertilizer applicator takes its inspiration from the simple walking stick — swiftly and accurately applying the fertilizer while supporting the hand that holds it.
    Speaking of the mentoring he has received he said “Before the Africa Prize, I saw myself as an innovator. My place was in the lab, and in the workshop. Now I see myself as a business executive.”
  • Samuel Wangui and team from Kenya for Chura, a SIM-card-swapping mobile application that allows users to jump between two different SIM cards and send airtime across mobile carriers. Phone signal strength can be highly inconsistent in Africa and many people have at least two SIM cards as a result.
    This, however, leads to the problem of airtime being trapped on a SIM card that is not in use and locked into a particular provider. “Chura” — the Swahili word for “frog” — enables Kenyans to “leap” airtime between mobile carriers, buy airtime in more convenient denominations or even exchange it for cash.
    Wangui says the mentoring has taught him to make decisions based on data from customers rather than just intuition. “We’ve learnt a lot about marketing, and to sell our services better. We’ve achieved good growth despite limited capital and benefitted a lot from the media attention around the Africa Prize.”

The overall winner will be chosen after the finalists present their engineering innovations and business plans to the judges at the Cape Town ceremony.

The eight other shortlisted innovations from the first Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, the innovators of which also received six months of mentorship and training, are:

  • A smart burglar-bar system for emergency exits from buildings (by Captain Abubakar Imam from Nigeria)
  • A mobile device application that teaches children how to read Shona (by Ian Mutamiri and team from Zimbabwe)
  • An affordable multi-purpose degreaser/cleaner (by Justin Nwaogwugwu from Nigeria)
  • A full-cycle sanitation service to reduce pollution to the environment and prevent diarrheal disease (by Samuel Malinga and team from Uganda)
  • Portable crushing machines for small and medium size mining operations (by Rujeko Masike and team from Zimbabwe)
  • A mobile application for merchants and customers to make and receive card payments through their phones and tablets (by Ayodele Adigun and team from Nigeria)
  • The mechanical pressing of bananas to produce enzyme-free clear banana juice (by Dr. Oscar Kibazohi and team from Tanzania)
  • An industrial process and quality control system for the fluids manufacturing industry (by Dr. Reinhardt Kotzé and team from South Africa).