A low-cost sustainable water filter system to provide clean and safe drinking water, and a service that allows African mobile phone users to switch easily between multiple mobile networks are among the four African innovations selected by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering to receive up to £25,000 of funding for its first Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.

Following an open, competitive, application process which saw entries from 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, 12 African entrepreneurs were chosen to receive a package of six months of business training and mentoring from the Academy. The four finalists showing the greatest promise have now been chosen, and are in with a chance to become the overall winner. Each will receive at least £10,000 with the grand prize of £25,000 to be awarded at a ceremony in Cape Town on 1 June.

The prize was established to highlight the importance of engineering in improving quality of life, economic development and to celebrate innovation. Still in its first year, the prize is already Africa’s biggest award for engineering innovation, covering all disciplines from mechanical, civil and computing to biomedical, oil and gas, mining and electronic engineering. Applications for 2015/2016 have opened today for engineers living and working in sub-Saharan Africa. Details on applying can be found on the Academy's website.

Chair of the Africa Prize judging panel Malcolm Brinded CBE FREng, said: “Engineering is vitally important to social and economic development across Africa and internationally. Following six months of training and money-can’t-buy mentoring from engineering and business leaders, all twelve entrepreneurs involved have benefitted enormously from the prize, with the four finalists showing particular promise.”

Africa Prize judge Stephen Dawson, a venture capitalist and chairman of Jacana Partners in the UK, said: “The four finalists represent a good cross-section of African engineering talent. They are each from different fields, operating in very different markets and are at different stages of their commercial development. One is already making significant sales, while others will soon be bringing their product to market.”

The Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is generously supported by the Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund, Consolidated Contractors Company, ConocoPhillips and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

The four finalists are:

Dr Askwar Hilonga from Tanzania for his low-cost sustainable water filtration system: a sand-based water filter based on nanotechnology. Each nanofilter is bespoke, and absorbs the contaminants that are present in a specific body of water – from heavy materials or minerals like copper and fluoride to biological containments such as bacteria and pesticides.

It is essentially a modernised version of the sand-filtration methods used to purify water.

“Thanks to step-by-step guidance and support from mentors in the Africa Prize, I was able to approach funders. The many insights gained from my training are opening doors for the project.”

Ernst Pretorius from South Africa for a fence-mounted security system which warns owners of fires or intruders. The “Fencesitter” detects tampering on fences up to 800m long. Fences cannot be tampered with, taken down or the device moved without raising an alarm.

“The Africa Prize prompted me to reconsider my business plan and identify prototype functionalities I’d never thought of. I will always be grateful to the Royal Academy of Engineering for organising the prize,” said Pretorius.

“I have been inundated with requests for information on the Fencesitter system, and see the device helping many people protect their livestock and wildlife across the continent.”

Musenga Silwawa and team from Zambia for their spot fertiliser applicator, an agricultural solution for small-scale farmers. Applying fertiliser to crops by hand results in inconsistent application. It is also time-consuming, often requiring a big labour force, and has health implications for workers.

The fertiliser applicator takes its inspiration from the simple walking stick – swiftly and accurately applying the fertiliser while supporting the hand that holds it.

Speaking of the mentoring he has received he said “Before the Africa Prize, I saw myself as an innovator. My place was in the lab, and in the workshop. Now I see myself as a business executive.”

Samuel Wangui and team from Kenya for Chura, a SIM-card-swapping mobile application that allows users to jump between two different SIM cards and send airtime across mobile carriers. Phone signal strength can be highly inconsistent in Africa and many people have at least two SIM cards as a result.

However this leads to the problem of airtime being trapped on a SIM card that is not in use and locked into a particular provider. “Chura” – the Swahili word for “frog” – enables Kenyans to “leap” airtime between mobile carriers, buy airtime in more convenient denominations or even exchange it for cash.

Wangui says the mentoring has taught him to make decisions based on data from customers rather than just intuition. “We’ve learnt a lot about marketing, and to sell our services better. We’ve achieved good growth despite limited capital and benefitted a lot from the media attention around the Africa Prize.”

The overall winner will be chosen after the finalists present their engineering innovations and business plans to the judges at the Cape Town ceremony.

Notes for Editors

For further information about the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation visit: www.raeng.org.uk/AfricaPrize

About the Royal Academy of Engineering.  As the UK's national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering.

We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK's role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK's world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering.

We are a national academy with a global outlook. We have four strategic challenges: Drive faster and more balanced economic growth; foster better education and skills; lead the profession; promote engineering at the heart of society. Further information is available here: www.raeng.org.uk


Judges of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation

  • Chair of Judges: Mr Malcolm Brinded CBE FREng Malcolm is Chair of the Shell Foundation, and a Non-Executive Director of BHPBilliton, CH2MHill and Network Rail.


  • Dr Liesbeth Botha, former Executive Director, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa
  • Stephen Dawson, Chairman, Jacana Partners
  • Professor Calestous Juma HonFREng, Visiting Professor, MIT and Professor, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Dr Moses Musaazi from Makerere University and Managing Director of Technology for Tomorrow Limited, Uganda
  • Dr Bola Olabisi, CEO, Global Women Inventors & Innovators Network

The eight other shortlisted innovations from the first Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, the innovators of which also received six months of mentorship and training, are:

  • A smart burglar-bar system for emergency exits from buildings (by Captain Abubakar Imam from Nigeria)
  • A mobile device application that teaches children how to read Shona (by Ian Mutamiri and team from Zimbabwe)
  • An affordable multi-purpose degreaser/cleaner (by Justin Nwaogwugwu from Nigeria)
  • A full-cycle sanitation service to reduce pollution to the environment and prevent diarrheal disease (by Samuel Malinga and team from Uganda)
  • Portable crushing machines for small and medium size mining operations (by Rujeko Masike and team from Zimbabwe)
  • A mobile application for merchants and customers to make and receive card payments through their phones and tablets (by Ayodele Adigun and team from Nigeria)
  • The mechanical pressing of bananas to produce enzyme-free clear banana juice (by Dr Oscar Kibazohi and team from Tanzania)
  • An industrial process and quality control system for the fluids manufacturing industry (by Dr Reinhardt Kotzé and team from South Africa).

For further information please contact:

Ellie Dobson at Proof Communication

T: 0845 680 1897 and 07989 176993

E: Ellie Dobson