Innovation in Arusha

Today was a holiday, and all the shops were closed to celebrate the liberation of Zanzibar in 1964 from Arabs and Indians. The rest of Tanzania won independence from the British in 1961. Last week the opposing party marched through town to protest voting injustice and paid with a few lives. The Vice Mayor of the ruling party resigned, but not the Mayor, after we heard they kept the polling place a secret from the opposition. Liberation of minds and hearts is an ongoing process, as we see, in Arizona and Arusha — no matter our culture, party, nation or religion.

One of the most liberated minds I’ve met in Tanzania is Bernard Kiwia, an Arusha native who is a gifted inventor. He has invented a cell phone charger, a water heater, a bike powered hack saw, a bike powered corn sheller and about ten other devices. He tells me that this year he wants to refine a maize planter which will deposit just two seeds in a spot at a time, not a handful. He was inspired by a student’s attempt to do this, who asked for his help in refining a prototype…

In Arusha I heard the fondest dream today of a beautiful, multilingual young taxi driver with two young children: to hook up his family to power and finish building his house with the fares he earns in this town that’s overrun by tourists. He said his dreams are coming true during the past year, and he will keep trying when they don’t.

Petty street crime is rampant, perhaps a result of all the tourists here. This week I heard two reports of women riding in cars with open windows who had their bags snatched by men passing in a traffic jam. Bernard witnessed one of these, and a woman I have meals with was the other victim. When rich and poor collide, material goods pass through porous veils. My taxi driver friend says he knows more than one 15 year old on heroin, courtesy of wzungu (whites) who have brought the poison into the international school where children of fine families have been seduced by Western habits.

But Bernard is ready to export better habits to inspire villagers to design their own devices to improve community life. He’s invited me to his house along with the D-Lab students from Massachusetts Institute
of Technology in Boston to learn a thing or two about innovation. His sister is a tailor, his dad is a mechanic, and his mom an entrepreneur. First, though, tomorrow we go to a village to do some design exercises to get everyone to think outside the box for a few hours. I will shoot video of Bernard teaching students to elderly how to liberate their minds from conventional problems that plague them, like rats eating the precious corn kernels before they can be ground into maize flour. Stay tuned.

Young World Inventors

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