Togo, Woelab and the e-waste 3D Printer

Digital Content

'Technologie Democracy', 'low high tech', these are the mantras of Sename Agboginou the founder of L'Africaine D'Architecture. His initiatives have one uniting goal: making groundbreaking technology accessible to the common man. With this in mind Sename founded L'Africaine d'Architecture, an architectural firm based out of Lome, Togo, with the idea of localizing the ideas of 'Smart Cities' to Lome.

Smart cities have been helmed as our future utopic cities, with various major firms such as Microsoft, Oracle, and IBM, jumping on the concept to optimize cities like Boston, London, Rio de Janeiro, and Johannesburg. So far, they have focused mostly on infrastructure i.e. optimizing the use of water, or reducing traffic. However, criticism has arisen around the corporate led optimization focused around the lack of integration of the citizens that actually live there within the process.

Given the idea of creating HubCite, was a large one, Sename commenced with Woelab, a maker space encouraging collaborative creation for anyone interested. Woelab acts as a community center that provides resources and support for people in the district, and push for their collaboration, with the idea of two heads being better than one. Sename has placed an emphasis on the creators within the space to come up with tools that utilize local materials to be built, thus embedding the spirit of recycling, and localization, in the creative process. Not enough emphasis can be placed on the importance of maker spaces on the continent, where individuals are able to come freely to invent something, that is influenced by their own experiences, and perception of the needs of their communities. Individuals like Koffi Afate Gnikou, the creator of the electronic waste 3D printer.

Wanting to provide a 3 D printer as a resource to members of the maker space, Sename looked into importing a printer to be used at Woelab. In the spirit of a makerspace though, Afate thought why don't they just make their own printer. Collecting scraps from the growing electronic waste dumps around Lome, Afate created his very own 3D printer, naming it the W.Afate.

Beyond the African context, 3D printing or additive manufacturing stands to be a revolutionary and disruptive piece of technology. The innovation pushes the Do It Yourself ethos and puts the power of manufacturing back in the hands of the people, cutting out the middle man i.e. major manufacturing entities. We've seen the danger in 3d printing, with the rise of 3d printed guns in the United States, but also the new hope that it creates, by printing organs, that usually leave patients on long waiting lists. The Woelab team has organized conferences with individuals in the medical field in Africa, to get a better understanding of the implications of a tool like a 3D printer in the local health sector and beyond. The vision of the Woelab team is to supply 3D printers to cyber or internet caf''s which are widely used in Lome. They will also be putting up the blueprints of the W.Afate online, to allow anyone around the world to replicate their product, using whatever scrap electronics they can find.

    We are taking technology and trying to convert them to the African context, to make them meet needs that are more relevant to us

Making it one of their missions to put the power of invention into the hands of every Lome resident Sename and the Woelab team continue to build and create with the spirit of lowhightech, coming up with ways to create products for the average Togolese consumer. They are certainly an outfit to observe in their subtle but powerful venture of democratizing technology.
Join the live discussion with My Africa Is and the Woelab team on May 1st, 2014, as we talk the disruptive power of 3D printing in Africa and beyond: