The TRUE AFRICA 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today.
David Moinina Sengeh is a Sierra Leonean engineer, entrepreneur and mentor. A current PhD candidate at MIT Media Lab, he has a degree in biomedical engineering from Harvard. His work has included designing and building prosthetic limbs, researching for Tuberculosis vaccines and producing energy through microbial fuel cells.
He is also the president and co-founder of NGO Global Minimum Inc. (GMin) an organisation which encourages, mentors and gives young people space in Sierra Leone, Kenya and South Africa to make and do things which will make a difference to their community. That has included bringing 15-year-old inventor Kelvin Doe (otherwise known as DJ Focus) to MIT.
He is also the founder of clothing line Nyali Clothing and a musician and rapper (in Krio).
Which youth movements are you excited about?
I really like the music movements that are getting big right now. I am super excited about Afrobeats. The scene has become very creative, whether it’s Ghanaian or Nigerian musicians or those from other West African countries. They’re creating their own beats in their living rooms and writing fun lyrics that are making people dance.
The key is to connect people who have brilliant ideas and have been able to test them.
These musicians are helping Africans enjoy life. There is a really young, self-taught beat maker called Brainy Beats in Ghana that I love. I’ve never met him in person but I’ve been interacting with him online. He’s collaborating with artists from all over, including making beats for the global star Samini.
How can we create ecosystems of innovation around technology?
There is a lot of creativity all over the continent but there is a difference between just making something and having an optimised engineered solution or prototype that is robust enough to test and evaluate. We need a way in which we can support creative people on the continent. That means linking them to people who have access to talent and the best solutions.
To build that ecosystem we need Africans who are making and building stuff in both the formal and informal sectors to connect with each other. The key is to bring the people together who have had brilliant ideas and tested their different hypotheses. I find that a lot of these individuals don’t know each other, so it’s about building a critical mass of them who have taken their ideas and actually implemented them on some scale.
There is a desire to seed a new ecosystem in Sierra Leone that will include manufacturing in a different way
Take Kenya’s ecosystem for example: the iHub (Innovation Hub) in Nairobi is the centre of the technology community in the country. You notice it all started with many young people who were innovating around Ushahidi. The new mobile economy was beginning to gain traction and those people had to gather in a space that provided many types of facilities: from manufacturing and prototyping to research and design. Suddenly you had an ecosystem that was betting bigger and bigger.
That included research capabilities, small-scale design and manufacturing, all the way to entrepreneurship and finance. The key is that everyone was connected and everyone knew each other. That is what happens when you have locals connecting with expats within a specific location.
There is a desire to seed a new ecosystem in Sierra Leone.
I am from Sierra Leone and I’ll be going back there after my PhD at MIT. I’m currently designing prosthetic devices as part of what we call biomechatronics. I look at how you connect the body to prostheses using image data. This varies from MRI and computational modelling to multi-material 3D printing, so my work is at an intersection of multiple fields. What I am saying is, there is a desire to seed a new ecosystem in Sierra Leone that will include manufacturing in a different way.
Who is your African of the year?
In the political world, I am excited about President Buhari in Nigeria. From what I’ve read so far, he seems to have the heart to do the work and his incentives seem to be different. It looks like he wants to change the country and consequently the subregion.
Looking towards artists, I would name Just a Band and M.anifest. They are doing really well and I love how they bring together vibrant lyrics with great beats.
In technology, BRCK just came out in Nairobi and it’s a super exciting product. It’s about connectivity; it’s about mobile; and it’s about learning. I think the way people in Africa will learn in the future will change and should.
Find out more about David at sengeh.com
Follow David on Twitter @dsengeh
Come back tomorrow for the next TRUE Africa 100 and keep up to date using the hashtag #TRUEAfrica