Thursday, April 10, 2008

Kenya's Natural Born Aeronautical Engineer

The story of Morris Tito Gachamba is fascinating and sad in equal measure. Born 75 years ago in Nyeri, he dropped out of school in Standard 3 because he could not cope with mathematics. That notwithstanding, Tito has attempted many engineering feats, the most outstanding being making his own airplane which he flew for 5 minutes before it crashed into a tree injuring him. For all his troubles, during Kenyatta’s rule he earned himself a stint in prison for trespassing Kenyan airspace, endangering his life and endangering the lives of others. Nobody saw the gold that lay in his contraption. That did not kill his dream though. He has since tried other engineering feats and his current dream is to make a glider. He has also made a tractor which he currently hires out to farmers in his village. Tito is not a rich man by any standards.

The sad bit is that Tito’s is a classic case of wasted talent. In different circumstances, the likes of Tito could have propelled Kenya into the world of aviation firsts. Or he could be relaxing in Seattle having just retired from Boeing. How much more of Kenyan talent is going to waste in the villages? How many Chinkororos and snuff sniffing Mungiki youths for example would have had a better life other than waiting for the whims of politicians? A lanky model can be spotted grazing cattle in the plains of Samburu and propelled to super stardom, but a much better approach for talents such as engineering would be a deliberate effort to look for them.

So Tusker Project Fame is looking for talented musicians, and somebody discovered Dennis Oliech. School Science Congresses have been around for as long as I can remember and are held year in year out. One would think the purpose of these congresses is to identify young Science talent for nurturing. But not in Kenya. Here, the kids, brilliant ideas and all, are sent back to school with a certificate or trophy to continue learning the History of Guatemala. And that is before computer errors mess up their KCSE results.

Do engineering companies send representatives to these Science Congresses? I think they should. Right down to the zonal level – up till the nationals. In fact they should form part of the adjudicating panel. They’re best placed to identify talent in the engineering field. They would know better which projects can be of commercial value so as to further patent and commercialize these innovations on behalf of the kids. They have the ability to then support the kids financially and intellectually and before we know it, Kenya will be on the engineering map. Of course these companies would have to work hand in hand with the government so that gifted kids can be exempted from the normal education system and still be able to work in Kenya. And Noah Wekesa (Minister for Science and Technology) I don’t mean taking them to the village polytechnics.