Good Products


Most of the physical products sold on the African continent are manufactured overseas. This is not new and is normal for developing countries without a huge investment in manufacturing. When the people who make products are not the end users they have a different understanding of the needs that consumers have, they are also slower to innovate based on feedback. This is a kind of one-directional influence that investors and entrepreneurs have had on the continent. Of course, this does not have to be a bad thing. In practice, however, it has meant that the quality of products shipped to the continent are not on par with those shipped to other locales.

A worse outcome is that the products do not fit the end user context even when they are of good enough quality. In this zine, we hear from the CEO of Reeddi about how solar home systems which are sold usually as kits can be quite impractical for tenants without roof access or people who want to install these systems in the home and place of business. When I speak with African hardware entrepreneurs, this is a common refrain.

But things are changing, in a way to grow their business on the continent more manufacturers are listening to the users and looking for opportunities to do true human-centred design. Similarly, African entrepreneurs with expertise in technology are going to places like Shenzhen to get their products made whether through white-labelling or adapting existing technology to their specifications. These relationships are no longer one-sided but bi-directional. Researchers like Seyram Avle have been studying these relationships for years and she takes us into a day in her work in this zine.

But there are still areas where the continent is lacking in, which affects how good the products being developed for it turn out to be. One of them is financing, especially for early stage ventures. Hardware entrepreneurs face an uphill task in attracting equity and debt funding that affects their ability to even develop an early prototype. How does one get to a product if you can not build it out to test it? Prizes and grants are trying to fill this gap. While the obvious benefit for the product developers is the amount of money they get to develop their products, the organizations behind these prizes essentially de-risk them for institutional investors.

Advances in technology as well as the availability of local product standards also affect product development. In this zine, we learn from Wiza Jalakasi about how KaiOS would improve outcomes for software developers, and Ashley Okwuosa reports on how much time it takes to get regulatory marks for new hardware products in different countries. Her report makes one think about what local product standards could look like. On another note, makers like Bukunmi Oyedapo focus on hardware development for tooling. His contribution to this zine is an improvement build for CNC lathes to make twists on furniture.

While work still needs to be done, hardware for the continent is positioned for a big future. One where the end users will have the ultimate influence.

This piece features in Outside Influence, Hardware Things’ first zine. Get a copy.