The verdict is in: Gikomba is the center of the jua kali universe. Almost every informal sector product has roots in Gikomba—the design, the materials, the tools, the inner frame, or the finished product itself. In sofa production, according to Lilac Osanjo, the frames of all jua kali sofa beds, from rural roadsides to formal furniture shops, originate in Gikomba. The area churns out 1,400 sofa frames per day! Even more interesting, nearly all design decisions, says Osanjo, are made by the time the frame is complete. Of the 33 sofa making enterprises in Gikomba (disaggregated into many specialized shops with 1,400 workers), only five are said to determine new designs, largely by copying furniture from Nakumatt or European catalogs.
Following Lilac’s presentation, a debate arose among the audience on whether Gikomba was a “nightmare” or a “thriving organism.” No doubt it is the latter, but just try doing research there. I dare you.
All scrap from the formal Industrial Area is dumped into Gikomba, ready for the jua kali. Artisans come from far and wide to access Gikomba’s selection of materials. These oil drums are dismantled into sheets and flattened by driving trucks over them forward and reverse, forward and reverse, and so on. Some are simply cut in half vertically for use as cattle troughs.
Scrap sheets of bottle caps, like those that KICK Trading uses in Kisumu. Here they are made into chests and painted over, but KICK prefers to maintain the scrap aesthetic.
A very cool windmill planted in the middle of Gikomba. My guide Dominic was instantly reminded of William Kamkwamba’s windmill and wondered whether its maker had read William’s book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Unlike William’s windmill, though, this one does not appear to be functional.
Most products in Gikomba are formed by hammers and crude tools, but a few like this chip cutter are clearly cast from a mold. Ostensibly, these cast products come from Thika, a town north of Nairobi with a thriving jua kali sector.
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Making Do is an investigation into systems of innovation in Kenya's informal economy. Learn more and read the book online or in print here.
I'm Steve Daniels. I study the transformative impact of technology on individuals and societies. I am the founder of the Better World by Design conference at Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design and Analogue Digital, a publisher of content related to global cultures of technology. Currently, I work at IBM Research, where I study mobile social computing in emerging markets.
I am particularly interested in how people create, adapt, and use technology in resource-constrained environments, which I have written about in Making Do: Innovation in Kenya's Informal Economy.
- Emerging Futures Lab
- Future Perfect
- Information Aesthetics
- Maker Faire Africa
- Smarter Planet
- Timbuktu Chronicles
- White African