Alex Rose-Innes

The electronics industry is responsible for 41 million tonnes of e-waste every year and Africa had become a dumping ground for many other countries across the globe.

But, African people with their innate strength to overcome challenges saw yet another opportunity to address this problem. Togolese inventor Afate Gnikou, invented and created the continent’s first 3D printer made entirely from discarded computer waste.

Gnikou from Lomé in Togo and his team of 30 young inventors, using electronic waste, had so far produced more than 20 printers. WoeLab found a use for e-waste to advance technology in this poor region and offers self-sustainable technologies to improve the livelihoods of the country’s people. Known to many as the street-level Fab Lab, this unique enterprise is turning toxic waste from discarded computers into an economic asset.

By 2013, one billion computers were dumped, creating a health hazard and Africa, with too little knowledge of technological repair, the continent not only has to contend with its own huge amount of waste, but also the negative health effects of e-waste in especially poverty stricken areas where the poorest are living on landfills.

The young and brilliant minds which are part of the ground-breaking project found the design for the W.Afate printer online and set about constructing Africa’s first 3 D printer made entirely from dumped scanner parts and old diskette drives found at a scrapyard. The design had won the award as Best Innovation at the Global Fab Lab Awards and at the same time assisted in creating 11 collaborative start-ups across Africa.

WoeLab is a free and democratic laboratory for social and technological innovation and saw a similar successful hub started in Tanzania. Plans for the future include 3D printer cafés to make technology more available on the African continent.