Engineering is the engine that will power Africa’s Growth

Engineering is the engine that will power Africa’s Growth


Africa is experiencing remarkable economic growth against all odds. The International Monetary Fund has projected that the continent will grow by 6.1 per cent in 2014, compared to the world average of 3.7 per cent. The trends are accompanied by growing interest in sustainable and inclusive growth among African leaders.

The challenge is how to sustain this impressive growth and spread its benefits. The answer to this question lies largely in Africa’s age-old challenge: poor infrastructure.

The World Bank projects that Africa will need to invest US$93 billion a year over the next decade to meet its infrastructure shortfalls.

However, the focus on financing tends to overshadow the fact the capacity to mobilise and utilise such resources will be limited by the continent’s low level of engineering capacity. Building such capacity rapidly is important for three key reasons.

First, Africa needs a large pool of appropriately trained engineers to help with the design, construction and maintenance of infrastructure. Some of the work can be done with the help of foreign engineers. However, routine maintenance and additional construction will require significant and timely creation of local capacity.

Second, infrastructure investments alone cannot guarantee sustained economic growth and spread of prosperity. This requires entrepreneurs who can identify business opportunities associated with new infrastructure projects.


Third, much of the technological knowledge needed to sustain Africa’s economies is available in the public domain. Access to such knowledge is not limited by intellectual property but by lack of engineering capacity and limited incentives for enterprise development.

It is for these reasons that the UK Royal Academy of Engineering has launched the £25,000 (Sh3.7 million) Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. This is the biggest prize devoted to engineering innovation, covering all disciplines from mechanical, civil and computing to biomedical, oil and gas, mining and electronic engineering, according to the Academy.

At face value, Africa’s engineering challenges are daunting. Leading economies such as South Africa and Nigeria suffer from critical shortages that are worsened by international skill migration. It is estimated that South Africa loses through migration nearly as many engineers as it trains annually. Worse, no African country maintains reliable records on training and deployment of engineers.

There are a few strategic measures that the countries can use to ramp up their capacity. First, African countries need to demonstrate the critical role that infrastructure plays in entrepreneurship and development. The most inspirational opportunity today is making broadband more accessible and affordable to young entrepreneurs.

Access to broadband should be viewed in the same category as transportation networks. Indeed, African cities have begun providing free Wi-Fi to stimulate entrepreneurial activities. Such experiments are underway in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa.

Second, specific measures need to be adopted to expand engineering training. African countries will need to supplement traditional university departments with novel approaches that include upgrading training institutes to offer certified engineering training, strengthening engineering training within private and public enterprises, and forging stronger international education partnerships.

Third, all major infrastructure projects should include specific engineering education objectives as part of performance. Expansion of telecoms infrastructure should include support for new electronics engineering schools. Examples of such efforts include the role of telecoms ministries in creation of new technology universities in Egypt, Ghana and Kenya.

Similarly, ongoing infrastructure corridors such as the one connecting Kenya to South Sudan and Ethiopia provide a foundation. Mining operations on the continent should also serve as foundations for building capacity. Such investments will pay off in the long run through reductions in maintenance costs.


Fourth, African governments need to revise their procurement project tendering systems so that they specifically provide for engineering training and the involvement of local engineering firms.

Fifth, armed forces are one of the most important sources of engineering capacity. Carefully-designed programmes could help to repurpose sections of the military to support infrastructure construction. To do this, the military will need to strengthen its own internal engineering capacity. Engaging the forces in civilian projects is not new. What is important is to clarify the lines of accountability and design strategies that foster better cooperation with civilian agencies.

Finally, these measures will require presidential champions. There is growing consensus among African countries on the importance of infrastructure in development. This is reflected in the draft Agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU).

Equally important is the rise of technocratic leaders across Africa. In 2012 Egypt, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Somalia and Senegal elected engineers to top political offices. These and other cases make Africa the continent with the highest number of leaders trained engineering, science and medicine.

Above all, engineering will continue to languish until African countries start to recognise engineers who are dedicated to turning ideas into products and services. The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation has a bigger role than just rewarding a few selected teams. It serves as a role model on how Africa can start on a new path of creative construction.

EWB-Kenya Seminar at Mukuru Slum Skills Training Centre

EWB-Kenya Seminar at Mukuru Slum Skills Training Centre


EWB Kenya met with MUST to deliberate on issues affecting the dwellers of Mukuru Informal settlements. Mukuru Slums Development Project (MSDP) is a registered NGO operating within Mukuru slums and the adjoining areas. It intervenes through various initiatives and programmes in assisting poor and vulnerable residents, in improving and empowering their lifestyles. MSDP programmes have been in operation for more than 10 years now. The main objective of the seminar was to discuss on how to provide a holistic and integrated care with the view of reducing poverty amongst the inhabitants of Mukuru slums and other informal settlements, by focusing on the basic human needs and education.

Mathare Community and Education Development Organisation

Mathare Community and Education Development Organisation


Mathare  Community  Education  and  Development  Organization  (MCEDO)  (Figure  6)  is  a Community Based Organization (CBO Reg No. 805) operating in the heart of Mathare slum, the second largest slum in Kenya. The organization was founded in 2000 and registered formally in 2001. The volunteer run CBO was formed in response to the plight of orphans and the vulnerable children (OVCs). The key areas included illiteracy, HIV Aids awareness, feeding and environmental conservation. This was the predicament of the slum child living in extremely deplorable conditions of utmost poverty with basic needs being a luxury. Through successful implementation of various community education and development based programs, the CBO has been credited by the non-residents and residents for its immense contribution in improving the welfare of hundreds of young people in the area through tailor-made programs.

Its primary beneficiaries have been mainly the highly disadvantaged children and youth in the slum. The initial focus was empowerment through education opportunities. Adult education pioneered this initiative and led to non-formal school. This was however discontinued in 2003 when the founding team discovered that several extremely needy children stayed at home though

primary education was free. United Nations Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) team from United Nations was very instrumental in implementing child education since October 2005. YEP partnership was also the platform that introduced World Food Programme to address the feeding challenge among the children.


In 2006, a documentary on Mathare slum featured MCEDO. Through the documentary, the CBO challenges were brought to light. The Chinese Embassy under Ambassador H.E Mr. 2Hang Ming responded by pledging to financially support land purchase and construction of the school. In memory of their kindness, the school was named MCEDO Beijing School.


MCEDO was formerly housed in separate temporal make shift structures but is currently operating in partly permanent house. The one storey building accommodates most of the operations though some of the classes are held in a nearby church. The school currently has a population of 627 children aged between 6 and 18 years. The exponential growth in population has been attributed to multiple programs that the centre runs that are child friendly and very attractive. The most popular programs are feeding and talent development. Its daily operations are run by a team of 22 volunteer staff (15 teachers, 7 non-teaching)

In January 2011, MCEDO started yet another exciting program, a Mixed Day Secondary School. This was due to the increasing number of children who could not secure high school spaces due to finances or performance. The scholarship program has limited positions hence the need to create additional education opportunities for the needy students.

MCEDO is an ideal centre for any organization interested in harvesting the positive slum potential to give the children career development opportunities. However this school doesn’t have computer facility. The total no. of the students of  this school is 627 in this academic year.

Students are of different castes and groups.

Nyatike Water Supply & Sanitation

Nyatike Water Supply & Sanitation


EWB Kenya is working with Rieko Kenya to provide water and sanitation infrastructure to the people of Nyatike, in Migori County. The proposed water project is situated in Nyatike sub-county, a region seriously hit with perennial water shortages exacerbating the life of its dwellers. The local populace are left with single option of using dirty water directly fetched from Lake Victoria, River Migori, River Kuja and small streams.

Sustainable access to safe water in the region is estimated to be less than 5%. Many of the water points have since dried up. The sub-county experiences comparatively harsher climatic conditions. The region experiences unreliable, erratic and poorly distributed rainfall with temperatures showing mean minimum of 24 degrees Celsius and maximum of 31 degrees Celsius.

Women and children spends an average of 3-4 hours to fetch dirty water for drinking and domestic purposes from the existing sources. Trends in morbidity among children under five years and the general population in the region rose by more than 50 percent for diarrheal and other waterborne related diseases. The sharp and alarming increase in these diseases are largely attributable to use of dirty water.

This project will directly benefit 1,000 households (women, men, youth, and children, disabled and elderly). The indirect beneficiary will include the neighboring communities and government of Migori County. The project is expected to produce – indicate in quantitative terms what the project will produce through its planned activities and budget

  • 1,000 households reached with supply of clean and safe water for their use
  • Disease burden attributed to use of dirty water reduced by 95% among the target households
  • A borehole drilled, water pumped to raised tanks, water connected to distribution line and water shops to reach 1,000 families
  • 1,000 families educated on water, hygiene and sanitation