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Health, agriculture, architecture… When the Africa of solutions is exposed – Jeune Afrique

“Forbidden to urinate. Fine CFAF 1,000. Who has never come across this inscription, or one of its many spelling variants, written in clumsy letters on the walls of their city? Not many people. But much rarer still are those who know that today we can make bricks with… urine! In June 2021, Professor Dyllon Randall of the University of Cape Town won the Innovation Award from the South African Institution of Chemical Engineers for this revolutionary invention.

“Using a technique inspired by the natural formation of shells”, the researchers mixed, at room temperature, urine, sand and bacteria, and used a natural process, the microbial precipitation of carbonate, to “grow” a solid brick like limestone. To achieve their goal, they needed no less than 30 liters of urine, collected from university students! The idea might make you smile, but when you know the ecological and financial cost of producing concrete blocks and when you estimate the amount of urine produced in a day by humanity, this kind of improbable invention deserves special attention.

Exploring other avenues

Presented at the International Biennial of Design in Saint-Étienne (south-eastern France), the exhibition “Singulier plurielles – Dans les Afriques contemporaines” brings together around fifty ideas of this kind, touching on all areas: from from agriculture to culture, including health, construction, car manufacturing, transport and even democracy.

You won’t find the words “system D” or “bricolage” in the exhibition

In his note of intent, exhibition curator Franck Houndégla writes: “From the register of the body to that of the territories, from the ultra-local scale to the continental scale, the approaches presented in the exhibition engage other ways of conceiving, producing and inhabiting. They have in common to project themselves outside the established paths, between adaptation tactics and a strategy of more global transformation of the territories. […] All show hybrid, unique and innovative uses […]. »

Recognized scenographer, doctor of architecture, teacher of design, the Beninese is a fine connoisseur of the continent, who can not take pleasure in either good-natured Afro-pessimism or rancid clichés: “You will not find the words ‘system D ” or “bricolage” in the exhibition. It’s people’s approach that interests me, their exploration of other paths. »

Mobile hand basin and bionic prosthesis

If all the ideas and all the projects presented in the exhibition are not necessarily applicable on a large scale, or sufficiently developed, they bear witness to an inventive vitality that goes against the prevailing fatalism. Thus, the pandemic that has hit the world as a whole has given rise to multiple entrepreneurial responses on the continent. Faced with the difficulties faced by caregivers in washing their hands correctly and in all situations, the Nigerian designer Nifemi Marcus-Bello (NMbello Studio) designed a mobile handwasher from easily accessible materials, such as tubular steel and simple jerrycans.

Some achievements presented by Franck Houndégla are truly surprising

Almost the same approach in Senegal, where Kër Thiossane and his fablab Defko Ak Niëp have invented various prototypes of contactless hand basins, with the help of anthropologist Yann Tastevin, as well as designer Bassirou Wade and his team. In Côte d’Ivoire, Corinne Ouattara has set up the “mousso health pass” (“woman”, in Dioula). This connected bracelet, which is worn like jewelry, is linked to a health data platform, thus allowing medical care to be both easier and faster.

Still in the medical field, certain achievements presented by Franck Houndégla are truly surprising. In particular that of John Amanam, a Nigerian sculptor from Uyo, specialist in special effects for Nollywood cinema. This 33 year old young man realized, when his brother tragically lost a hand, that there were hardly any prostheses adapted to black skin. Without specific training, he managed, after many trials, to produce a hyper-realistic replica of the amputated limb.

The Tunisian Mohamed Dhaouafi who designed an artificial hand whose fingers are controlled by the muscles of the arm

In view of the success that its realization met on social networks and the strong demand that resulted from it, both local and international, Amanam created Immortal Cosmetic Art. The company, which currently employs seven people, produces handcrafted prostheses adapted to each person’s skin color. As for those who need a bionic prosthesis, they can turn to the company Cure Bionics, founded by the Tunisian Mohamed Dhaouafi who designed an artificial hand whose fingers are controlled by the muscles of the arm, the parts printed in 3D are easy to replace and the prosthesis is rechargeable by solar energy…

Cultural banks

Original in both its form and its purpose, the exhibition “Singulier plurielles” goes off the beaten track to exhibit a “combination” of approaches that respond to each other, “projects that are not all design, but share design methods”, as Franck Houndégla puts it. By specifying: “Through [ces] projects, [mis] at the service of the collective, networks of action take shape, new models are disseminated and other narratives are written. »

The word “narrative” is important, since the exhibition also offers a different way of telling what is being created in Africa… and of offering solutions to all of humanity. “Questions arise, which the designers answer, explains Franck Houndégla, and their answers can be applied elsewhere. »

The first cultural bank of this kind was created in 1993 in Fombori by a group of women

He cites in particular the cultural banks created to fight against the trafficking of heritage goods in Dogon country. To prevent the villagers from being tempted to resell works or furniture that have acquired a high market value on international markets, they have been encouraged to deposit their possessions in museums where they can be admired by everyone. in exchange for a microcredit. “The first cultural bank of this kind was created in 1993 in Fombori by a group of women, says Franck Houndégla. This type of device could not have been born elsewhere, but now it is exported since there are cultural bank projects in France and Canada! »

Internationally reproducible solutions

The approaches addressed by the exhibition are, for the most part, applicable and replicable in other places. Like the soil restoration method known as “Zaï” and defended by Yacouba Sawadogo in Burkina Faso, or the model developed by the Songhaï agricultural training and production center, created in 1985 in Porto-Novo (Benin) by the Dominican priest Godfrey Nzamujo. Supported by the United Nations Development Programme, it has in fact spread to Benin, but also to Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Congo.

Singular plural also presents initiatives to consolidate democracy

Other projects developed in the field of agriculture are rich purveyors of lessons, be it the vast undertaking of the “green wall”, the reality TV show Farm Factory in Senegal or the concept of the start-up Agri-pyramide, launched by the Burkinabè Kévin Douamba. Baptized “zoo-hydroponic pyramid”, this construction combines, on the same surface, three sectors of activity: plant production, fish farming and poultry farming.

Still, it would be simplistic to confine oneself to economic questions: in addition to offering different kinds of ecological bricks to build houses and buildings, “Singulier plurielles” also presents initiatives to consolidate democracy. As does the startup BudgIT, created in 2011 by the Nigerian Oluseun Onigbinde. The idea is very simple: to provide precise access, thanks to technology, to public spending. A way to oppose transparency to corruption and to make the government face up to its responsibilities. There are many countries around the world that would undoubtedly benefit from such citizen control.

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