Youth drive to promote drone technology in Africa

The article below follows the story of young drone entrepreneurs who are part of the AfricanDRONE Youth Scholar, a World Bank-support programme that promotes the use of drones on the continent and encourages the development of innovations and the generation of the right conditions to exploit all its possibilities.

With a founding member cast that comprises Uhurulabs, African Defence Review, Flying Robot, Microdrone, African Sky Cam, Blast Tracker, Unequal Scenes and Cape Town TV, the AfricanDRONE youth scholar project seeks empower local pilots through a self-help network that offers seed funding, skills development, resource sharing, advocacy, and networking opportunities for members.

The inaugural members of the project were selected from eleven countries – one each from Ghana, DRC, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Cameroon, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Cote D’Ivoire, and Malawi: and 10 from Rwanda; which must have had the dibs to all their slots because it hosted the African Drone Forum.

The story covers how Khadija Abdulla Ali from Tanzania, Grace Ghambi from Malawi, Mugezi Kelia from Rwanda, Julia Makena from Kenya and Tariroyashe Marufu from South Africa are playing their part in using drone technology to improve theirs and other people’s lives in Africa. The group also attended the African Drone Forum in Rwanda in February last year, where they rubbed shoulders with reputable players in the industry and also took time amongst themselves to exchange ideas on how they as youthful drone stakeholders could lead innovation in their communities.

Khadija Abdulla Ali – Tanzania

Without yet reaching thirty, Khadija Abdulla Ali has earned the nickname “The Queen of Drones” on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar. She started five years ago as a volunteer for a World Bank-driven island region mapping initiative, and has since fashioned a long and solid career in the drone industry.

“I like working with advanced technology that can have huge impacts on my community,” says Ali, who graduated from university with a degree in Information Technology and Application Management. “Drones help us better address the risks of flooding, or the control of diseases such as cholera.”

But, with all her background in computer and digital technology, Ali crossed paths with drones almost by chance.

“In May 2016, Yussuf Said Yussuf, (now the Tanzania Flying Labs Coordinator), came to me and asked if I would volunteer with the Zanzibar Mapping Initiative (ZMI), the goal of which is to map all of Zanzibar using UAVs,” Ali reflects, in this interview with Women and Drones. “Yussuf told me they need someone smart, strong and who could give the project some energy, and that I was the perfect fit.

“He also told me the project did not have any money to pay me, but I made the decision to participate anyway.

“I then got training from SenseFly and Drone Adventure on how to use drones, how to monitor and setup eBee drones using eMotion2, and got to attend a one-week training session, going into the field for hands-on practice.

“I am now proudly qualified as an eBee drone operator.”

Khadija Ali and the SenseFly eBee

Ali admits that she loves her work with the ZMI, because it has opened up opportunities for her to network with other drone industry players from all over the world. She had been invited to speak at drone technology events in Africa and the USA.

But every time she reflects on her drone journey so far, from which she has now worked how to make a living, one event stands out.

“It was in 2016, when I was chosen to volunteer for a WeRobotics project to help in disaster management using UAVs to provide information that can help in recovery from floods, disease, and earthquakes,” she says. “This project involved mapping Kagera, Tanzania, which had recently been affected by a large earthquake. Using Cumulus One and Parrot Bebop 2 drones, we helped improve the local community’s perspective’s on using UAVs for humanitarian good.

“I also supported humanitarian drone training for other organisations around the world, including rotor and fixed wing drones (such as the eBee+), in July of 2016.” 

Julie Makena- Kenya

Julie Makena knows the field of agriculture well. She is an engineer and chief security director of Astral Aerial, a Kenyan drone services company highly established in the east African region.

“Many actors are interested in developing agriculture technology in Africa,” says Makena. “By the end of this month, we will have mapped the farms of 5,000 small holder farmers in Kenya. In addition, we have participated in the fight against the locust invasion in Kenya and Ethiopia. We are comfortable with the use of drones in crop mapping, inspection and fumigation, although we also offer cargo transport, infrastructure inspections and environmental and wildlife conservation, for example.

“Drones in Africa have made previously inaccessible products and services more accessible. High-precision maps could previously only be obtained with satellite images. Now, a small farmer in Kenya, with or without studies, can get a digital map of their farm or a map of crop health at an affordable cost and serve to improve productivity.”

Makena’s experience in Kenya is that the adoption of standards for the use of drones “has resulted in a more regulated industry, in which each drone is registered and each operator is well trained, which in turn deters dishonest drone operators.”

“The global drone market is expected to reach $34.5 billion by 2026. In Africa, this translates into multiple job opportunities on a continent where 60 percent of the population is made up of young people under the age of 25. More importantly, the implementation of drones in sectors such as agriculture will lead to better and more efficient agricultural methods that will leverage data to obtain farm information and thus drive decision-making to improve agricultural productivity. The overall domino effect is the improvement of food security in Africa.”

Grace Ghambi

Grace Ghambi – Malawi

In Malawi, Grace Ghambi is another young lady who got introduced to drone technology through mapping and, also like Ali, shares the experience of using unmanned aerial aircraft in natural disaster response (Ali conducts lectures on drones in emergency management back in Tanzania, at the State University of Zanzibar).

“I have worked with Globhe (a global platform that coordinates the work of drone pilots in more than 80 countries) in Malawi’s Chikwawa district to collect data on flood-affected people,” Ghambi explains. “The ability to create valuable information from the collected data and know that you’ve made a difference is priceless.”

For Ghambi, what the world in general, and Africa in particular, needs, is information and data collected by drones to help make better decisions, informed decisions.

Ghambi is also working hard to inspire the next generation, through her organisation, Focus Action Results (FAR), which she started in 2018 to build young people’s passion for STEAM education.

“Since it’s establishment In 2018, a schedule for our target youth has always been set with prime focus on Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics Education (Steam),” Ghambi says. “FAR’s first activities were in Kasungu, Malawi, and they have since spread to different regions. So far over 73,000 young people have been reached in Malawi, Kenya and Ghana.”

Mugezi Kelia – Rwanda

For his part, Mugezi Kelia is more interested in the impact of drone use on agriculture.

Kelia is from Rwanda.

“The most important contribution that drones can make in Africa is the modernisation of agriculture, on a continent where more than 60% of the population are smallholder farmers and about 23% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP comes from the agricultural sector. Drones increase precision agriculture at a much lower cost and easier,” he says. Attempting to explore these possibilities, Kelia has devoted an important part of her efforts, to understanding the technology “both hardware and software that allows vehicles to operate in the line of sight but also outside of it.”

Tariroyashe Marufu – South Africa

Marufu’s obsession in drone technology has been in its potential as a means of transport

“I found that drones can go beyond mapping, and be a key element in creating solutions to solve Africa’s everyday problems. The use of drones for the delivery of medical supplies in rural areas is of particular interest to me. Access to rural areas is usually complicated.

“I have seen, for example, proof of delivery of sanitary towels and I am sure that rural people in Africa can benefit from the delivery of other medical supplies. By taking advantage of the enormous possibilities offered by drones, local understanding of African problems, and the ability to link innovation to problem solving, it is possible to achieve a more sustainable future,” she says.

Tariroyashe Marufu

Brainchild behind AfricanDRONE

Photo journalist and Unequal Scenes founder Johnny Miller was there when the idea for AfricanDRONE was first mooted. With his Unequal Scenes photography project, Miller uses aerial photography to highlight social and economic inequalities in societies all over the world societies. One of his most viral pictures was one where he documented the dichotomy and economic disparity told by the demarcation between the wealthy suburb of Sandton and its high density and desperately poor neighbour, Alexandra in South Africa.

According to Miller, one cannot ignore the role that drones are playing in the field of mapping and how they help tell story of the impact on land ownership management that “leads to a wide range of economic benefits for Africans.”

“Drones are also helping to revolutionise journalism on the continent, flying and collecting data in areas that have historically been deprived of social and economic development,” Miller says.

“Commercial drones with built-in cameras are cheap enough and easy to use so that community members can use them to make inequality visible and that’s a real revolution in the way we see this social problem. Drones are a technology that is about to drastically transform the African continent into the 4th industrial revolution.”

Adapted from El Pais


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