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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
New Kenyan washing machine
By Ogova Ondego
BBC Focus on Africa magazine

An alarm-fitted television set, a manually operated washing machine and a stove built of wood and windows.

George Kabiru, a 44-year-old resident of Nairobi, Kenya, is the inventor of all of this.

George Kabiru
George Kabiru's washing machine was designed for those without electricity
When I paid Kabiru a visit, I was in for a shock. I touched the television set in his living room. and an ear-splitting sound immediately went off.

"Who will want to run down a street with a TV howling at them?" Kabiru comments wryly.

He has fitted a matchbox-sized alarm, which operates with batteries, at the back of the television set.

"It is a good crime deterrent," Kabiru says. "The alarm can sound for something like eight hours."

Charcoal stove

A medical technician at the Mathari Mental hospital in Nairobi, Kabiru earns extra money from what he regards as his invention, charging customers about $15 (Ksh1200) for the alarm and its installation.

The alarm can also be attached to fridges, computers and video players.

Many people have invented or created things but they are discouraged from patenting them
George Kabiru

And at his work-place, Kabiru puts his innovative skills to good use.

"My colleagues and I have been forced by circumstances to come up with incubators, lighting equipment and casualty beds which have proved to be better than conventional ones," he says with a laugh.

Kabiru has also made a solar jiko (charcoal stove) which he sells for about $44. He says it is best to cook on it between 0900 and 1500 in cool, high-altitude areas.


The jiko is an insulated wooden box with two glass windows on the top. One improves heat absorption, while the other allows heat from the sun, and the reflection of it from a coating of aluminium, to penetrate the box and cook the food.

But the invention Kabiru is most proud of is his washing machine - a plastic container fixed on a stand and operated manually by turning a wheel.

"I had people without electricity in mind when I made the machine," Kabiru says.

"You can wash clothes, blankets, linen and canvas bags in it and it takes a load of 40 kilogrammes."

He sells the washing machine for about $68. So proud is Kabiru of the invention, that he has patented it.

"It was a lengthy and demanding procedure. The government has to simplify it," Kabiru says. "Many people have invented or created things but they are discouraged from patenting them. It means that other people can steal their ideas and make money out of them."

The BBC World Service programme Africa Live goes in search of African inventions next Wednesday: Necessity is the mother of invention they say, but does African creativity offer anything for development? Have you ever invented something or thought of a practical solution to an every day issue? Are you worried that your idea could be stolen? Have you ever tried to get an idea patented?

Use the form to send us your comments, some of which will be published below.

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