DAR ES SALAAM– Tanzanian entrepreneur Gibson Kawago says that he is working on a project aimed at providing clean and affordable energy to people and controlling the dumping of e-waste in Tanzania.
Kawago, 27, is the owner of a company named “The Wanted Garage,” where he is working on reusing laptop batteries to create battery packs, power banks and solar lamps.
He attributed his entrepreneurship to his love for cables in his father’s garage from a tender age and his passion for innovation.
“When I was young, I was showing my grandmother a wedding ceremony video from my mobile phone before it ran out of battery in the middle of the video,” said Kawago in a recent interview with Xinhua at his small workshop in Mbezi Beach suburb in Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital of Tanzania.
“Since my village was off-grid I had to travel over 51.4 km to recharge my phone before I came back the following day to finish watching the video.”
This challenge forced him to walk his first step toward his long innovative journey by resolving to save himself and the people of his village when he made a solar power bank for charging mobile phones out of trashed materials in his father’s garage.
Kawago recalled that in 1999 when he was four years old, he was in his father’s garage, happily playing around with the cables in cars in Iringa region, central Tanzania, where his father was working as a mechanical engineer and driver of trucks ferrying logs to the plant for processing into paper.
“I asked myself how many people are facing the same problem.
“Students studying at night are using kerosene lamps causing some of them to experience lung problems caused by inhaling smoke from the kerosene lamps over the years,” said Kawago.
His innovative journey started again when he resolved to look around for a solution to lighting and his passion for reusing dead lithium-ion batteries from laptops started growing up at that moment.
“When I came back from school I used to go to garbage dumping areas and I started scavenging for motherboards for mobile phones, televisions and radios and took them home,” he said, adding that from that period he also started making a small power bank for charging mobile phones.
Most Tanzanians, including students, use refurbished laptops whose batteries have been used before, making their lifespan very short and they have to dispose of them, according to him.
Kawago said he started to specialize in reusing lithium-ion batteries which are mostly found in laptops.
He started his company in 2009 when he joined secondary school but it was not formalized until 2016 when he started working on lithium batteries while studying at the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) in electrical engineering.
He graduated from DIT in 2019.
The soft-spoken Kawago said he has a team of four permanently employed technicians and five other technicians working part-time.
His main sources of revenue are derived from repairing damaged battery packs for e-bikes, home-powering batteries, Bluetooth rechargeable speakers and customized battery packs for solar companies.
“I work for 20 hours a day on weekdays, 13 hours on Saturdays and six hours on Sundays. My fellow team members work from Monday to Saturday for eight hours and rest on Sundays,” he said.
He said a chain of people are involved in his project, including the battery collectors whom he pays 1.5 U.S. dollars for 1 kg of dead laptop batteries, creating jobs for people considered unskilled.
“I also train them on how to safely handle the dead batteries because if they are not safely handled they can cause problems,” said Kawago.
After the batteries are delivered to his small workshop, he breaks them apart and separates the plastics.
In the process, he has one policy that he doesn’t want to leave any kind of waste behind.
Kawago has partnered with other companies that are recycling plastics, and electronic and electrical waste to conserve the environment.
He said he has also started making small lithium-ion generators that can be used to power homes for lights, computers and televisions.
He lamented the fact that most people in Tanzania don’t have knowledge of how to manage e-waste, adding that disposing of e-waste is a massive challenge.
“Conserving the environment is everyone’s responsibility, it is not for a certain institution or the government that needs to care about that,” he observed.
“We can be affected by improper disposal of e-waste. Chemicals of disposed of e-waste start leaching into the soil affecting vegetables and fruits that we eat,” added Kawago, saying that eating vegetables or fruits contaminated with e-waste can have an impact on the long-term.
He said he has been working on this project for more than five years making prototypes with online guidance from different stakeholders from China, India, the United States and the United Kingdom.
“I have shared with them what I do and they have guided me on the prototypes that I make. It is my vision to make products that meet required standards that can compete in the market,” he said.
“Right now I am looking at companies that can help me package my products.
“The functionality is already done and after I get proper package I will start completing compliance issues with authorities that could be in June 2023 before we can be in the market by late July 2023.” – Xinhua