The idea is that over dependence on imported products cripple local capacity to think, innovate, and generate new ideas as well as implement them in a sustainable manner. In fact any form of aid to developing countries would be more meaningful it were in the form of capacity building, for example through guidance on how to locally design and build devices whose breakdowns can be locally fixed by the local people as well as emphasizing the need for locally manufactured devices rather than imported devices at exorbitant costs coupled with limited capacity to locally maintain and repair them in the inevitable event of breakdown. There are examples here in Uganda where devices or components are donated or based on microcredits/microloans but become non-functional because locals cannot repair neither can they maintain them (sometimes the solar panels fail before the microloan is due). It is believed and quoted that many biogas digesters have been constructed in Uganda to provide energy, but it is hard to find them and harder to find functional ones. This also applies to other technologies such as solar which is expensive and there is no human capacity to repair them. Furthermore, if the United States is not purchasing solar panels for their residential homes without large tax credits, why are they highly promoted for the extremely poor (less than $1/day)?
It can also be argued that unless developing countries emphasize the concept of locally made devices; technological growth will remain a dream forever. I have gotten involved in the design and fabrication of devices locally here in Uganda and my observation while interacting with stakeholders is the negative tendency among Ugandans: most of them do not believe that reliable devices can be manufactured locally; they do not believe that Ugandans can come up with innovative ideas. Such negative tendencies are unfounded because there are role models such as Dr. Moses Musaazi (www.t4tafrica.com) that have come up with brilliant and innovative ideas contributing greatly to the betterment of human life.
The world today is in high gear for technological advances which have transformed it into a global village. It is self evident that technological devices/equipment are a key component in any technological growth since they act as the infrastructure and hardware that drives the software to achieve various applications such as tele-medicine. While that is true, it is instructive to note that many countries and regions that have experienced a technological boom such as China locally manufacture/fabricate their devices and equipment. However, when it comes to developing countries such as Uganda, it is easy to observe that most of the devices are not locally made. This is still a very big challenge and its logical to claim that such situation explains why developing countries are developing countries.
It is why we are teaming up with Empower Design because we know we must Empower Ugandans to Power Uganda as Dr. Abigail Mechtenberg’s workshops are titled.
Written by: Emmanuel Miyingo, Makerere University, Technology for Tomorrow.