A Tanzanian chemical engineer has won the first Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation with his specialised water-filtration system.

Dr Askwar Hilonga’s innovation – a sand-based water filter that cleans contaminated drinking water using nanotechnology – has earned him prize money of UK £25,000 (TZS79 million).

Each Nanofilter is engineered for a specific body of water and absorbs the contaminants present – from heavy metals or minerals, such as copper and fluoride, to biological contaminants like bacteria and viruses, and pollutants such as pesticides.

The United Nations reports that up to 115 people in Africa die every hour from diseases linked to contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation. In a 2014 report, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said AIDS, TB, malaria and other infectious diseases would not be defeated until the battle is won for safe drinking water, sanitation and basic health care.

After an impressive 33 academic publications, Hilonga’s trademarked Nanofilter is set for commercialisation within a year. It could change the lives of thousands of Africans.

The Africa Prize is an initiative of the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering. It encourages talented sub-Saharan African engineers from all disciplines to develop solutions to local challenges, and to develop them into businesses.

Launched in 2014, the prize aims to stimulate, celebrate and reward engineers advancing innovations that will benefit Africans.

Dr Hilonga was chosen by the judges following multiple challenging stages of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, during which he competed with entrants from 15 African countries.

Twelve shortlisted Africa Prize entrants from seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa received six months of business training and mentoring where they learned to develop business plans and market their innovations. The group learned to communicate effectively, focus on customers and approach investors.

At the awards ceremony in Cape Town on Monday 1 June, the four finalists gave their final presentations, after which the Africa Prize judges and a live audience voted for the most promising engineering innovation from sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Askwar Hilonga accepts the first Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, handed over by Juliana Rotich, co-founder and executive director of Ushahidi

The three runners-up, who each win £10,000, were all commended for the potential of their innovations:

  • Ernst Pretorius from South Africa for a fence-mounted security system
  • Musenga Silwawa and team from Zambia for his spot fertiliser applicator
  • Samuel Wangui and team from Kenya for Chura, a SIM-card-swapping service.

“We are proud to have Tanzania’s Dr Askwar Hilonga as our first Africa Prize winner,” said head judge Malcolm Brinded CBE FREng. “His innovation could change the lives of many Africans, and people all over the world. He has successfully incorporated the training and mentoring from the last six months into his business plan, and shows great promise.”

Dr Hilonga is a chemical engineer and lecturer at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology. Described by the institution as a “very prolific young Tanzanian chemical engineer,” his aim is to inspire Africans to empower their own communities.

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

The Royal Academy of Engineering has already announced the opening of the second Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. Individuals and small teams living and working in sub-Saharan Africa, and who have an engineering innovation, are invited to enter. Potential entrants can find more information on www.raeng.org.uk/AfricaPrize.

The Africa Prize is supported by the Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund, Consolidated Contractors Company, ConocoPhillips and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

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

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

For media queries, profiles of finalists, photos or videos, please contact:

Anzet du Plessis at Proof Africa,

T: +27 83 557 2322 
Email: Anzet du Plessis


Judges of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation


Head Judge: 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 and Innovators Network


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