This article appeared in the Malawi’s The Nation newspaper on July, 2, 2007. There are a few minor errors, and I didn’t speak with them before the article appeared. I am not a small boy anymore, but am 19 (not 18 as the article says) and my email address is incorrect. I am grateful nonetheless.

Behold, the scientist from Malawi

The world has a way of making celebrities. A small boy from Kasungu has joined the world stage, thanks to his technological ingenuity that has transformed lives of people in his community. Writes Isaac Masingati.

People of Mastala Village Traditional Authority Wimbe in Kasungu see a spectacle of wonder when they pass by William Kamkwamba’s small hut. There is a bicycle perched on two poles.

When they first saw the now 18-year-old boy build the ladder three year ago and pull up his father’s old bicycle to the tip of the poles, people whispered and told gossips of how young William was losing his senses.

He is mad, they said. Most of worried were his parents. They too could not help worrying over their son’s strange behaviours. After all what does a sane man think he is doing perching his father’s bicycle up a tree when his old man should be riding it?

William is not mad. He is probably the sanest man in the whole village. He is has built a windmill that has eliminated all expenses his home was incurring when powering his house.

Using that buttered bicycle, improvised rusty propellers and the natural resource, wind, he is able to generate electricity to light his home and power his transistor radio during which he saves K600 a month.

What more, he has become an instant celebrity for his ingenuity. People, the world over, now refer to him as “The scientist from Malawi”.

From a boy who could easily be written off as a mental case for his bicycle/windmill escapades, a search on the internet gives over 30,000 entries in which technology pundits discuss his creation.

“I am proud to belong to Africa,” writes one.
“New wind blows in Africa” writes another.
“Kamkwamba is a cheetah,” writes yet another.

Actually, fellows who gathered at a conference in Arusha in Tanzania, were impressed with William’s ‘raw’ explanations of how he developed the windmill.

“I built the first when I was 14 years old. Since then I have been modifying and refining it such as adding more propellers. I tried out everything I read and I made this,” he told the delegates and they all stood in an ovation.

William dropped out of secondary school in 2002 because his family lacked funds. Determined to continue his education he started reading books from the primary school library, which had been contributed by USAID in a teacher training scheme called the Malawi Teacher Training Activity (MTTA).

He discovered a pair of books on energy, one of which included the design for a windmill, and he began work on a five-metre tall windmill near his family’s home, built from scrap timber, an old bicycle frame, and blades made from PVC pipe heated and pounded into flat blades.

The windmill powers a bicycle dynamo, designed to power a bicycle’s headlamp. William ran the bicycle dynamo through a transfomer, which provided enough power to charge a 12 volts battery. That battery in trun powers four lights, two radios and a mobile phone charger in William’s home.

Dr. Hartford Mchazime, MTTA deputy head of party where William had found the books came to visit Mastala Village and was told about William’s windmill. He was so impressed by the young man’s ingenuity that he arranged for William to begin attending secondary school at government expense, and asked the local media to report on the wind project.

The story caught the attention of Malawian software developer and blogger Soyapi Mumba whose post got picked up by Hactivate, Afrigadget and other blogs. Emeka Okafor from Timbuktu Chronicles — curator of TED Global Conference in Arusha — was so impressed that he arranged for William to Arusha conference as a fellow.

This is how the little boy from Kasungu, a three hour drive from capital Lilongwe, found himself on air to Tanzania and sharing the stage with world technology think tanks.

Says one participant fellow and admirer in an internet contribution: “William’s presentation was amazingly similar to a deck that an entrepreneur would use to pitch venture capitalists in Silicon Valley.”

Impressed at William’s innovation, one fellow instead of flying back to America, branched off to Malawi and drove to Kasungu to see the windmill himself. He has arranged that a bank account be opened for William’s education and that he be groomed in English language to enable him travel to America sometime.

His windmill will be improved so that it generates enough power to pump water at a local well for irrigation.

“I am happy for the boy. I had always wanted that he goes back to school. This is a good story,” says Mchazime who taught William what to expect when taking a plane, staying in a hotel and getting transportation to and from the airport.

The conference introduced the Kasungu genius to computers, the internet, google, and email. That is why today, you can write him on: wiliamkwamba@gmail.com [my correct email is williamkamkwamba@gmail.com]