3D Printing and the Policy Implications

Some thoughts for the Policy Landscape on IP

By Prof Berhanu Abegaz, Executive Director, The African Academy of Sciences(AAS), Nairobi, Kenya and Hailemichael Teshome Demissie, PhD, Senior Research Fellow, African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), Nairobi, Kenya.

Additive manufacturing, popularly known by the colloquial ‘3D printing’, is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created.

Ranging from bionic ears to hand guns, from car parts to prosthetics, from printed houses to printed drones, there is now an inexhaustible list of artefacts that are now 3D printed. 3D Printing is becoming increasingly popular around the globe and is expanding at an incredibly fast rate. Although it is still to take off fully in Africa, the continent needs to be prepared for the policy and legal implications that it might create. Some of the uses of the technology will re-introduce previous regulatory conundrums that dominated the debate on the international IP regimes. Africa was subjected to the harsh consequences of the international IP regime and emerged out of it as a victim rather than a beneficiary.

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LEARNING BY TOUCHING: 3D Printing for Education

By Prof Henry Thairu Chair of the Commission for University Education, and Director of Consultancy Services, Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya.

Early this year, the BBC ran a headline story by the Director of the OECD’s Directorate of Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, titled ‘China opens a new university every week’. At this rate China is set to overtake the total number of graduates in the Western world and perhaps in the rest of the world.

This change is not only in the numbers but also in the type and quality of education. The preferred subjects are STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects with 40% of the graduates in 2013 having completed their studies in STEM subjects. Recent years have witnessed nearly a million PhDs in STEM being awarded each year in China. The bar is higher for the new graduates as new thresholds are awaiting them in the world of innovation and technological advancement. The graduates are trained for high value, high earning jobs requiring high skills and are required to equip themselves with the new skills the future market wants them to have.

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Africa’s influence in climate change negotiations is weak!!  Insights from new research

Joanes Atela, Claire Quinn, Albert Arhin, Lalisa Duguma and Kennedy Mbeva

Africa is mentioned in almost every climate change research and policy as the most vulnerable, the most exposed and the most affected continent by climate change.  Global solutions being proposed to tackle climate change whether though adaptation, mitigation, capacity building, financial support are strongly justified around addressing Africa’s vulnerabilities such as hunger, disasters and diseases among others. Because these solutions are expected to work within existing socioeconomic and policy circumstances of African countries, recognising the role of Africa in informing the solutions is very important.  A recently published paper on the Journal of International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Economics and Law, provides some interesting insights into how Africa contributes to the development of climate change policies at the global level and associated implications on implementing proposed solutions within Africa. The article applies the case of the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) which is emerging as a key global policy to mitigate climate change.   The article was authored by researchers drawn from the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins of the World Agroforestry Centre and the Department of Geography at Cambridge University.

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From policy to implementation discourse: Transformations required to achieve clean and sustainable energy in Africa

Dr. Joanes Atela, ACTS


This week from 23rd-27th May, 2016, delegates drawn from across the world are gathered at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi  to participate in the second session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) to deliberate on the overarching theme ‘ ‘Delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’’. I was privileged to speak as a panelist on one of the side events entitled, “Sustainable Energy and Technology”. The event was co-organized by UNEP and ACTS, and drew over 150 participants.  I was asked to speak about the required institutional transformations needed to move to a low carbon economy, and the role that African policy and research institutions can and should play in promoting a low-carbon transition.  Despite the strong policy discourse perpetuated by the international community on the need for clean and sustainable energy for all, Africa has not achieved meaningful transformation to clean and sustainable energy, as evidenced by the continent’s dismal performance in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), compared to other developing regions.   

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Dr Cosmas Ochieng, Executive Director, ACTS and Dr. Hailemichael Teshome Demissie, Senior Research Fellow, ACTS

It is common tradition that every nation wants to make and preserve their leaders’ portraitures in the best way possible commissioning the best artists, sculptors and photographers. 3D Printing technology is now providing the most precise portraiture ever. Obama’s 3D printed bust will be unique not only for the way it was made but also for being the closest likeness of the President himself. Unlike the other

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By Dr Bitange Ndemo, Associate professor, University of Nairobi

“3D Printing has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.”

President Barack Obama

Did you know that in 1990 a novel project to manufacture motor vehicles in Kenya was abandoned due to the high cost of building five prototypes? Today new technologies such as 3D printing are making it possible to not only develop prototypes at a fraction of what it cost a few years ago but also provide us with the capacity to create more complex products than ever before.

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3D: Printing Africa’s Development

By Hailemichael Teshome Demissie, PhD, Senior Research Fellow, African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS)

A common perception about emerging technologies in the context of developing countries can be captured by the ‘sour grapes’ argument – that such technologies are beneficial but unaffordable – a thinking represented in Aesop’s fable of the hungry fox who cannot jump high enough to reach the hanging grapes and has to give itself the pretext that they are probably sour.

Some in developing countries often resort to the same reasoning that emerging technologies though revolutionary and beneficial as they may be are unaffordable for them and have to wait for years before they can adopt them. This line of thinking needs to be challenged as the reality suggests otherwise.

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Turning the scholarly pursuit into a development pursuit

By Dr. Joanes Atela, ACTS

In March, researchers, knowledge brokers and funders gathered in Pretoria, South Africa to share lessons and experiences on how a decade of ESRC-DFID research support has impacted on poverty reduction.The Conference came just a few months after the launchSustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  These goals articulate the value of research and capacity in accelerating growth and poverty reduction especially in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa where performance in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was relatively dismal.The three-day conference gathered some interesting perspectives and raised some overarching concerns for the future.    

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Sweet Harmony: Why UN climate plans should use the same metrics

If the INDCs are going to be the foundations of a global climate solution, we need to make sure they are durable and clear, argue experts

By Pieter Pauw and Kennedy Liti Mbeva

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Experiences from conducting a choice modeling survey on domestic energy products in Kenya

By Mourine Cheruiyot 

Technology is evolving rapidly and it is influencing consumers' behaviors, their daily lifestyle, marketing, and business activities. User acceptance of  technology is a critical key factor to determine its success.  I am involved in a project that is studying technology development to ensure it affects consumers’ lives in an inclusive manner but also uses innovative technology.  Recently these came together when ACTS had a chance to use the Poimapper software  (a mobile data collection application) to study consumer choices relating to energy efficient appliances in Kenya.

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By: Prof. Torbjörn Fagerström, Dr. Roy B. Mugiira and Prof. Lisa Sennerby Forsse a) Värtavägen 39, SE 115 29 Stockholm, Sweden, b) Directorate of Research Management and Development, State Department of Science and Technology, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Nairobi, Republic of Kenya, c) Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Box 7070, Uppsala, S-750 07 Sweden.

Our vision

Research in life sciences will have equal importance for society in the 21st century as research in physics, chemistry and electronics had in the 20th. We will introduce biological production systems, which are ultimately driven by the sun. These will give us not only fuel and food, but also a multitude of novel products including a sustainable flow of raw materials to many industrial processes. This will be achieved by putting science and technology in its rightful place, in order to reach its full potential. We share this vision with the US President Barak Obama, who in his inauguration speech said “We’ll restore science to its rightful place ... We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories”.

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Where does your waste go?

By Ms. Jully Senteu and Joel Onyango

Heaps of garbage and polybags scattered as far as the eye can see are regrettably a common sight in most urban and peri-urban centers across the country. It is disheartening, when you drive across a centre made up of less than a dozen shops yet there is so much plastic littered all over, you can barely spot a patch of green – or brown. There is this particular centre Nkoilale on your way to Maasai Mara. The abhorrent site sneaks up on you without warning. The Savanna plains that would be characteristic of this place have been replaced by a sea of plastics as far as the eye can see. I can feel an itch coming on every time I drive past this place. I wonder how this is ok for everyone involved- the locals, the governing bodies, the tourism sector seeing as Maasai Mara is Africa’s 3rd greatest tourist attraction, you, me- how is this ok?

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By Dr. Sajitha Bashir, World Bank

The scale of China’s engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa is impressive and is expected to grow substantially if future projections of Chinese investments materialize. By 2013, China accounted for a quarter of all SSA trade. Estimates of the stock of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) vary from the official estimate of $ 24 billion to $ 61 billion. (The China Global Investment Tracker estimated the stock of FDI to be $ 61 billion in 2013 and the value of Chinese contracts, a proxy for committed investment flows, to be US$82 billion in the same year - Pigato and Tang, 2015).

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By Prof. L Alan Winters - Professor of Economics, University of Sussex, also of CEPR, IZA and GDN

Mobility would seem to be the very essence of trade: if things don’t move, there is no trade. This is true, and it informs the parts of this article that talk about efforts to reduce the costs of doing international trade, including trade facilitation and aid for trade. But there are three other aspects of mobility that I want to stress: mobility between sectors – notably structural transformation - and mobility between areas – internal migration and urbanization. Third, I shall argue that mobility lies not only at the heart of generating more output and income, but also at the heart of sharing that income in a more equitable and sustainable ways. In a sense the last is about social mobility and I recognize this as one of the most important elements of achieving a sustainable society; however, as an economist I do not have the skills to move beyond the analysis of incomes, so I will concentrate on that.

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By DrCosmas Ochieng, Executive Director, ACTS


A combination of robust economic performance and an uptick in scientific and technological indicators over the last two decades has given rise to exuberant assessments of Africa’s development prospects in the 21st century. Loose parallels are being drawn between development in Africa today and economic development in East Asia (i.e. the ‘East Asian tigers’) and the rise of ‘Silicon Valley’. This article argues that Africa’s economic and techno-scientific progress is being lionized prematurely, to the detriment of its long term development. The ‘Africa rising’ narrative masks a poverty of development strategies: lack of coherent development policies and capacity for strategic thinking necessary to consolidate recent gains and to harness future global mega trends.

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By Prof. Michael Lofchie, Department of Political Science, UCLA


History offers sobering lessons for those concerned with the prospects of broad based development in Africa. Entrenched political oligarchies do not willingly surrender their power and privilege out of a benevolent concern for the wellbeing of the many because they fear that, if they do, they might erode the basis of their dominance. Africa’s incumbent oligarchies share the political anxiety of oligarchs everywhere; if they widen the circle of citizen engagement and distribute wealth more widely, this would empower those who wish to contest their hold on power. Their determination to retain power helps explain the scarcity of development policies that share the benefits of Africa’s growing wealth with poorer Africans.

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Public Private Partnership in the post-Kyoto climate regime: Unpacking the silent dilemma

By Joanes Atela

Unpacking Public Private Partnership (PPP)

Public-private partnership (PPP) has become a central driver of climate change actions- both in negotiations and implementation. Whether on clean energy, sustainable forest management or even climate smart agriculture, PPP has been emphasised as the panacea of hope for a climate resilient world. Amidst this hope, however, policy makers, donors and scientists alike have paid little attention to the diagnosis of this concept and whether the form in which it is currently framed carry any premise for the desired climate resilient world. From a layman’s perspective, the PPP Knowledge Lab defines PPP as “a long-term contract between a private party and a government entity, for providing a public asset or service…’’ The definition entails two key components: contractual/institutional and resources/monetary resources for delivering the contract. In most policy and scientific debates, the latter part of the concept ‘monetary resources’ appears to have taken precedence perhaps because it provides ‘direct fix’’ to climate problems and in the words of a Bonn-based  expert I interviewed during my PhD research ‘PPP critically avails resources for climate action because without money, you can do nothing’.

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21 Years of COP…

By Winnie Khaemba


‘You have been negotiating all my life’ lamented a Youth NGO’s Constituency  (YOUNGO) representative while making an intervention at a UNFCCC COP 17 session in Durban, South Africa in 2011. Four years on, the world is rife with anticipation that the UNFCCC COP 21 in Paris will at long last deliver on a global climate deal applicable to all, which is fair, ambitious, and legally binding. Whatever this will translate to in real terms - and how a cocktail with all these ingredients can be made - remains to be seen.

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A Just Energy Transition for Africa

By: Kennedy Liti Mbeva

Energy poverty is one of the major challenges holding back Africa’s transformation agenda, as clearly articulated in the African Union’s Agenda 2063[1]. About 70% of the African population is not connected to the electricity grid, yet the AU 2063 agenda emphasises that energy is the backbone of economic transformation. Lack of clean, affordable energy is thus a critical challenge in Africa, and one that has recently started getting the publicity that it deserves.

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Rethinking Africa’s Sustainable Development Pathways: transformative approach through the Africa Sustainability Hub

By Dr. Joanes Atela

  1. Sustainable development

Sustainable development (SD) remains a landmark policy and global development agenda since the 1992 Convention on Environment and Development. Anchored on the Brutland Commission report ‘Our Common Future’, sustainable development articulates the urge to harmonise the temporal and spatial redistribution of development with a natural resource base – in the words of Bruntland, ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

This self-justifying definition has been enthusiastically accepted by many across the globe – providing a platform for North-South political and socioeconomic bargaining, a strong operating ground for international development agencies, and – most importantly – a novel space for setting international research and development agendas.

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The Unsung Heroism of Thabo Mbeki

By Dr. Cosmas Ochieng, Executive Director, ACTS

“In our world in which the generation of new knowledge and its application to change the human condition is the engine which moves human society further away from barbarism, do we not have need to recall Africa’s hundreds of thousands of intellectuals back from their places of emigration in Western Europe and North America, to rejoin those who remain still within our shores! I dream of the day when these, the African mathematicians and computer specialists in Washington and New York, the African physicists, engineers, doctors, business managers and economists, will return from London and Manchester and Paris and Brussels to add to the African pool of brain power, to enquire into and find solutions to Africa’s problems and challenges, to open the African door to the world of knowledge, to elevate Africa’s place within the universe of research the information of new knowledge, education and information”.

Thabo Mbeki, 1998

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