Launching a Pan-African Open Hardware Supply Chain

Joeri Poesen //

I started the African chapter of my life in Senegal in January 2010, with the launch of Bantalabs. The explicit aims being to do something useful, and to test the hypothesis that it's possible to build out a Drupal development team in Africa that can compete with just about any other team in the world.

We've since grown to a team of 10 people in 3 countries and we've worked on projects with and for, amongst others, Capgemini, Alcatel-Lucent, Carrefour and the United Nations Development Programme.

We also spun off a co-working space and subsequently merged it with Jokkolabs to provide a physical space in Saint-Louis for hackers and open source communities to do their thing.

Achievements unlocked.

Through my involvement in the local open source communities and the pioneering work Afrilabs is doing, it's become clear that there is a mass of young enthusiastic and gifted builders and tinkerers out there who would love to work with open hardware components: Arduino and Raspberry Pi boards, LEDs, resistors, tranistors, breadboards... everything you need to start prototyping.

We launched a survey in two languages to get a broader insight in what was just a hunch a few months ago. We'll be sharing the results of that once I've managed to make some pretty sparkly visualizations, but let's just say most of the 100 or so responses state: Don't have it. Want it. Ready to pay for it.

Sadly, as Erik Hersman's timely post The Problem with Hardware in Africa reflects, getting your hands on them is a nightmare. And even if you manage to ship them in at a reasonable cost, and manage not to lose half your shipment, local customs policies can make the full end-to-end shipping cost prohibitive.

"Find a common, hard to solve problem, get out of your comfort zone, do the boring stuff and make it work."

This month, we're finally ready to launch our answer: a Pan-African Open Hardware Supply Chain - from online purchase to customs-cleared orders waiting at a pickup point. Starting in Senegal, Mali and Liberia, and we'll be working our way through West Africa towards our central and eastward friends.

Not sure I know what I'm doing, but I'm having fun.
Hope this ends well.