If you don’t like what you have, George Kabiru tells OGOVA ONDEGO,change it.
Kabiru, a medical technologist who trained as an electric and medical engineer in Kenya and Britain, either makes or modifies everything around him to suit his needs and those of his loved ones.
The surprises begin as you enter the man’s house. The first thing you encounter is a non-conventional sound-proof ceiling board. It is made of soft material and covered with attractively patterned hand-woven clothing material. Once in the living room, you are fascinated by hs anti-glare television screen of which he says, “No matter how close you are from this screen, the glare will never harm your eyes. This is particularly suitable for children as they like watching TV with their eyes close to the screen.”
But perhaps what may startle you even more is when you touch the television set and ear-splitting screams rent the air. It does not stop until Kabiru makes it to. This is an anti-theft alarm which, Kabiru says, can ring continuously for eight hours once it is set off. This alarm is ideal for protecting valuables like computers, fridges, TV sets, video cassette recorders, cookers and solar panels. “If any one tries to steal your VCR or computer, they will not as the alarm will deter them,” says Kabiru. “After all who will want to go around with a TV that is howling and attracting attention?” The size of an ordinary match box, the alarm costs about US$15 (Ksh1200) including installation fees. And it uses not electricity or the power of the gadget it protects but its own dry cells.
“This means you do not have to fear that burglars could strike during an electric power blackout and cart away your property,” Kabiru explains. Although stealing of cars is a common occurrence in Nairobi, no one can steal Kabiru’s vehicle. And that is not because it is old or worthless. Only he can operate his car. “Even if I give you the ignition key you can’t drive it away,” Kabiru says, revealing that he has not only modified it but also repairs it himself. But perhaps the invention that Kabiru is most proud of is the washing machine .
“No matter how dirty, bulky or rough your wash, this machine will make it clean within minutes without bruising your hands or breaking your back,” Kabiru says as he demonstrates how the manually-operated gadget washes doormats, carpets, blankets, rubber shoes and canvas bags as easily as it does white linen. He asserts that unlike conventional washing machines, his takes in more wash, uses less water and is faster.
This machine can be used anywhere as it is not depended on electricity. Taking about 15 minutes to do washing, even children can operate it as it requires gentle turning at one’s pace. The machine is a cylindrical plastic container with a lid fixed onto a stand. “All my inventions are developed with the rural person in mind. What works in rural areas should have no problem in urban centres like Nairobi.
Except for the container of the apparatus, Kabiru says he made the whole machine that is “economical to the user as it uses ordinary soap, takes in a load of 40 kilogrammes and does not wear out clothes as they do not have to go through strenuous friction from scrubbing to remove dirt.” The machine costs US$68.75 (Ksh5500). Never one to forget about food preparation, Kabiru has created a solar jiko (charcoal stove) whose temperature, he says can go as high as 300 degrees Celsius. Even at this extremely high temperature, Kabiru says the jiko can never burn any food. The best time for cooking using this US$43.75 (Ksh3500) apparatus is between 9 am and 3 pm in cool, high altitude areas.
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The washing machine spews forth a clean wash
The cooker is an insulated wooden box with two glass windows on the top and a black coating. While the latter improves heat absorption, the former allows heat from the sun and the reflection of it by the aluminium coating to penetrate the box and cook the food or warm the water in it. It comes complete with three cooking pans. For dairy farmers, Kabiru has made a sharp cutter which resembles a paper guillotine to help them in the cutting of bulky and tough animal feeds like maize and banana stalks. “It is less tiring and convenient and costs a paltry US$15 (Ksh1200),” says Kabiru. He also makes iron roofing tiles. “These tiles are light and can be used by any one–even those not trained in roofing as the tiles are made in such a way that they simply fall in place and then they are joined with nails.”
Kabiru explains that his “goal is to improve existing machinery and to create missing one.” An employee of a public hospital, Kabiru says he and his colleagues modify some equipment to suit their needs while coming up with new items. “We have been forced by circumstances to come up with incubators, lighting systems and casualty beds which have to proved to be better than conventional ones,” he says with a laugh. A man of many talents and abilities, the 1959-born Kabiru is the lay reader of his local Anglican Church. He challenges Kenyans to assist talented people. “Some existing businesses frown on any new inventions as they feel insecure while the authorities cannot offer adequate protection to the invention,” he says, adding that the procedure of patenting a product in Kenya is long, tedious and expensive. “Although I have patented my washing machine, I feel the government should simplify the process,” he says
Although many Kenyans have always been resourceful in the area of invention, it is felt that the government is not doing enough to protect them and their creations. “The lengthy and demanding procedure of seeking protection has discouraged many people from patenting their invention leading to their loss or they just don’t register them at all,” Kabiru says. Other inventions of Kabiru include a bay-wet alarm, a ‘waste motor vehicle fuel and water’ jiko, a solar water heater, and a cow dung fuel jiko. The most disheartening thing about Kabiru’s inventions is that they are yet to be commercialised as he lacks funds.
Cooking with the sun
Although the Kenya Industrial Estates (KIE) was set up to assist in the development of industrialization in the country, Kabiru says “it only comes in once you’ve started.” He adds that he “was most disadvantaged by the previous regime as donors had stopped funding Kenya. Now that NARC is in power I am hopeful I will get somewhere with my work. ” The budding industrialist says fear has kept him away from turning the ideas into money. “People with money can easily snatch them from me as there is no adequate legal protection in this country.”