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Project of the Day: Jua Kali, Open Source Machinery for Africa

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
31st March 2013


This Kenian site houses information on nearly a dozen farm tools and other devices, many with open-source construction guides.

Rob Goodier explains:

“Ask for a pair of door hinges at a hardware store in Kenya and the shopkeep might offer two options: regular and “Jua kali” hinges. The jua kali pair could cost half the price, but they will not be finished or cleaned, and they are likely made by a cheaper, cruder manufacturing process the forges each hinge in a unique size and shape.

Jua kali is a Kiswahili term that literally means “hot sun.” But in Kenya, which shares English and Kiswahili as official languages, jua kali has taken new life as an adopted word in the English language that denotes the entire informal sector of goods and services.

With that brief etymology, we’d like to introduce the Web site www.juakali.info. The site houses information on nearly a dozen farm tools and other devices, many with open-source construction guides. And more renderings are on the way, Muckle says. The site draws on the jua kali tradition of cost-cutting innovation and do-it-yourself manufacturing.

“I chose to call the site juakali.info so that those from the East African area would know who it was intended to reach,” Barney Muckle, Jua Kali’s founder, told E4C.”

“The juakali.info Web site is not well known, particularly among the people who should use it. Muckle targeted the informal manufacturing sector, which thrives in Kenya (but is not unique to the country). “These are often young persons who exist in every country in the world and who start enterprises with minimal capital, often a loan from the family, but who then, by hard work, supply a service and generate income,” Muckle says. “Now, here, the metal workers cannot afford to rent a building, so they arrange to put their welder wires through the window of a friend to connect to his power supply. Naturally for a fee. They do their work in the open often under a veranda, and when it is wet, the risks they run of electrocution are horrifying to see. But that is how they function.”

To accommodate this kind of manufacture, the designs at juakali.info incorporate locally-available raw materials and they keep costs down as low as possible. But the site fails to reach theses workers because most of them don’t own computers.

A changing landscape of mobile-device access could put juakali.info and other important online resources into the hands of the world’s informal sector. We have a lot of hope invested in that trend, and we hope it serves sites like juakali.info and the people who can benefit most from the information.”

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