Four shortlisted for inaugural engineering prize

Copyright: Rob Huibers/Panos

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  • Four finalists emerged from 12 entrepreneurs selected from 55 applicants
  • They have received training from entrepreneurs and engineering experts
  • An expert says Africa needs innovative engineers for the continent to develop

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[CAPE TOWN] Four finalists for the inaugural Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation with inventions in fields such as agriculture and nanotechnology have been announced by the award’s initiator, the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng).
The finalists who were revealed last month (21 April), emerged frontrunners after selection of 12 candidates from 55 applicants based in15 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“Africa’s economic development is constrained by a serious shortage of engineers in every discipline and country,” Malcolm Brinded, chair of judges for the African Prize for Engineering Innovation told SciDev.Net.

“Africa’s economic development is constrained by a serious shortage of engineers.”

Malcolm Brinded, African Prize for Engineering Innovation

“This is a concern in a continent where rapid urbanisation means an extra half a million people will move into towns and cities every week for decades to come,” added Brinded, who is the chairman of the Shell Foundation, and a non-executive director of UK-based Network Rail.
Brinded said the prize aims to stimulate, celebrate and reward innovation and entrepreneurship in Africa.
The winner of the prize launched last year in London will receive £25,000 (about US$39,000) and each of the three runners-up roughly US$15,500 at a ceremony to be held on 1 June in Cape Town, in South Africa, according to a statement from the RAEng.
The four engineers and entrepreneurs from Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Zambia will present their inventions to the judges in person who will pick the ultimate winner.
Askwar Hilonga, an engineer from the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania, was nominated for modifying sand-based water filter with nanotechnology. The device offers affordable means to filter heavy metals such as copper and fluoride and biological contaminants such as bacteria and viruses or pollutants, including pesticides.
Musenga Silwawa, a practical instructor who trains students and small-scale farmers at the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute, made it to the finalists’ list for his precision fertiliser applicator, modelled around a walking stick.
Silwawa told SciDev.Net that the tool will result in about 70 per cent efficiency in applying fertiliser by small-scale farmers and replace the labour-intensive and time-consuming process.
Kenyan software engineer Samuel Njuguna is in the running with Chura — the Kiswahili word for frog — which enables Kenyans to ‘leap’ airtime between mobile carriers, buy airtime in more convenient denominations, and even exchange it for cash. 

Ernst Pretorius, an electronics engineer at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, was selected for developing the Draadsitter (‘fence sitter’ in Afrikaans), which detects tampering on fences up to 800 metres long.
The Africa Prize is funded by the Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund, Consolidated Contractors Company, ConocoPhillips and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
Hansie Knoetze, the dean of the faculty of engineering at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, said Sub-Saharan Africa needs engineering innovation and substantial numbers of engineers to develop the economy.
Knoetze added: “By improving the living conditions people will develop a better understanding of the benefits of engineering.”

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africadesk