This CNN Hero upcycles old computers to open new worlds for young Kenyans
Kenya’s techies, engineers, architects and programmers have long been among the best in Africa and the developed world. That was fine when the continent had the only two main computer companies in Africa, Kenetech and Embecosoft. It was fine when there wasn’t much to develop, too. But times have changed, with computer technology spreading rapidly to all corners of the world, whether it be the internet, mobile phones or even cars.
This week, a group of Kenyan computer enthusiasts and developers, working in partnership with the Kenyan government, launched an open source, free and open-to-all program to create new technologies from old computers. Called Open Source to Open New Worlds (OSNOW for short), this program is aiming to create affordable, easy-to-develop, open and free computer chips, operating systems and mobile phones using the designs and components from computers.
Osow was created by an independent group of individuals, including computer engineer Emmanuel Njoroge at the Computer Applications Development Laboratory (CADL) at University of Limpopo, who was inspired by a presentation by Google’s Cofounder, Larry Page, at a conference in 2014. Njoroge created a website to announce the project and invite people to the event on the 8th of June 2014 with the website here. The event attracted over 700 people and the event became a popular media event and an open-event across the country. The government, through the office of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), made the first purchase of $1.5 million from Osow in 2015.
The Osow project has grown into something the world has never seen before. The project’s website stated in 2016 that they had shipped over 30,000 computer components to manufacturers of various electronic devices, including mobile phones and computers. The project has been featured in local and regional media, and the press even gave the project a mention in the Kenyan parliament.
“The project has become the most visible project that is being done with the aid of government resources,” says Njoroge about how Osow has grown into what he believes will be an enormous global program. Njoroge has worked for nine years at CADL.
“I wanted to start a project to start with so as to create a legacy that will be