The African Institution of Technology (AFRIT) has big plans. The non-profit organization’s mission statement states that its “plan is to help the diffusion of semiconductor, microelectronics, nanotechnology, biotechnology and other emerging technologies in developing nations (especially African nations) by supporting schools, SMEs (small and medium-scaled enterprises) and governments through world class education support and technical consulting”. AFRIT’s members include engineers, technologists and scientists, all of whom are actively engaged in the cutting-edge technology developments in medicine, communication, automobile in various U.S., Canadian and European organizations.
Ndubuisi Ekekwe founded AFRIT when he noticed that Africa was lagging behind in the technology race. As a doctoral engineering student at Johns Hopkins University, he says he came to the realization that without helping Africa to develop a technology diffusion road map, the continent could face severe crises in the future.
One problem is the brain drain many African nations have experienced. According to the South African government news service, BuaNews, 40 percent of African scientists live in OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, predominantly western countries. On top of this, African countries do not spend much on science and technology (S&T). According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, sub-Saharan African countries spent an average of just 0.3 percent of their GDP on S&T in 2007, the most recent year calculated. Countries in North Africa spend 0.4 percent of GDP on S&T. South Africa spends the most–0.87 percent of GDP on S&T. And, according to studies, only six countries (Morocco, Egypt, Senegal, Madagascar, Tunisia and South Africa) have programs of technology parks.
“Africa though growing in the tech segment is not the fastest. It could be doing well in minerals and extraction industry but certainly not technology. The challenge in Africa is that we are not investing in creative areas. It is largely consumption. When we participate in technology, it is mainly to buy and consume and not necessarily to develop and sell,” Ekekwe points out.
AFRIT is hoping to help change all of this. AFRIT’s members volunteer their time and skills to help schools and institutions as mentors to inspire a new generation of technical leaders across Africa. “We have members in the hundreds. Ideally, any African student in diaspora is our member. All we do is connect you to spend time with a local university when you are visiting the native land. We do this without accepting any external funding from any organization. We think we are the only NGO that does not accept donations. Our policy is clear: Africa does not have money problems. It has idea problems. If we focus on ideas, we can raise any amount of money we need to run our operations,” says Ekekwe. “AFRIT has done consulting jobs for top global brands in Africa and we generate enough revenue to do all we want without soliciting monetary support.”
To spread the goals of AFRIT, Ekekwe often speaks at various conferences in Africa and worldwide, educating people about the need to focus on S&T in Africa. “AFRIT facilitates the diffusion of emerging technologies into African economies by working with universities, small and medium scale enterprises, and governments through technical and non-technical services,” explains Ekekwe. “AFRIT sends members to spend time with schools in Africa. These members are usually members in top U.S. engineering PhD programs.”
AFRIT was launched with seed capital from a fellowship Dr. Ekekwe received from Johns Hopkins University when he received the Samstag Fellowship. Later on, some organizations started coming on board and AFRIT was able to do services and run its operations. AFRIT also creates companies and percentages of their profits are channeled into running AFRIT. “An example is First Atlantic Semiconductors & Microelectronics (Fasmicro.com) which is the biggest microelectronics firm in Africa. It has partnerships with top global brands like Altera and Microchip which respectively have market caps of $13bn and $8bn in the NASDAQ,” says Ekekwe.
According to Ekekwe, though the semiconductor technology is complex, intense and capital intensive, “we are optimistic about the future of this industry in Africa. AFRIT is also planning to build the mobile layer of Africa upon which every business that wants to do business on mobile in Africa will depend on. There is also a project under evaluation by the Nigerian government where we plan to replace kerosene lanterns at home with energy efficient solar PODs.”