Thomas Mboa (Who am I?)

I am Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudou from Cameroon. My background is in biochemistry and used to be a biology teacher for secondary school. Currently I am a researcher in the field of Open science with a focus on the maker movement and biohacking in the African context. I am also the President of the Association for the Promotion of Open Science in Haiti and Africa (APSOHA).
The maker movement and biohacking interest me deeply, due to their potential to overcome most of challenges the African Health system faces (e.g. many hospitals lack the basic materials, like microscopes). The possibility to modify hardware (e.g. connect a solar panel to a PCR machine and so on) is an advantage.
In order to promote this potential, I have organised this conference : “Biohacking in the medical field: perspectives for developing countries”, Yaoundé, Cameroon, Mai 2017
Even if the potential benefits are high, the maker movement and biohacking are subjects of critics, since : practices are very Western oriented, local knowledge is not acknowledged (it’s classified as superstition or culture) and values are often not put into practice as they should. My paper entitled “Benefit and the hidden face of the maker movement: Thoughts on its appropriation in African context” was written from the critic perspective.

In Africa, the maker movement and biohacking is facing many difficulties: 1) the vision differs fundamentally from the usual makers/biohackers. When I ask Western biohackers “why do you make this?”, it’s usually just for fun, like a hobby. In Africa, it is not the same, geeks are hacking to solve a problem, and to help people. 2) the machines that are usually made, are not prototyped in an African context. Although there are exceptions, often they are not useable. Therefore I promote biohacking in Africa in collaboration with electrotechnicians etc., so things can be tested and used. 3) The basic electronic components which are not easily affordable and available in Africa. Even the raspberry pi and Arduino are not easy to get; you have to order it from China. 4) The capitalistic system is another hurdle, because even if the prototype is good, there is standards defined by the WHO so that prototypes or materials to be used in hospitals, should fit with a standard. These standards are defined by the big companies. You cannot, as a biohacker, fight the establishment. They define the standard. This critique is addressed to the system managing health: it does not let people do it themselves. 5) Biohacking is not completely new to Africa, but it remains not supported by African Governments. People behind the project suffered a lot eg. The geek who made a cardiopad, was supported only when the state saw that media everywhere in the world, talk about this cardiopad invention (CNN, BBC, …).

However, some strategies and support can help to overcome these difficulties: 1) Government support, by the implementation of national policies on Open science. This is our biggest obstacle, not money or other things. 2) International organisations can be used as a vehicle of Open science. Because there is a kind of epistemic and colonial alienation which makes that our leaders trust in International Organization (because of money) and they are very open to discuss with white people. The reality is all things coming from the white people, West and NGO’s are ‘good’, while they don’t listen to their own people. 3) Due to these realities, most of the geeks engaged in biohacking are successful because they are connected with Western geeks and lab.
There are not many fablabs, makerspaces or ‘protofablabs’ in Africa. Some of them are promoted by personal efforts, association or companies. The Woelab in Togo is well known and has success. In Cameroon there is the fablab Ongola Lab, supported by Orange and Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie. But communities seem not deeply involved due to their perception of these spaces. That is why the science shop model has a lot of potential to change the African conception of fablab, rather than replicate the western model.

In my community, I conducted some project to give better life to people by hearing their needs and build solutions together. Like safe water to drink as I did in my village several years ago. I am not supported even by the state or by the rural council. If the pump is broken or whatever, I pay money to keep it going. I cannot ask villagers for money because they don’t have it.
I did other projects as well. Together with my wife, a teacher in nutrition, we did some research to reduce children malnutrition in rural zone; since many mothers cannot afford the right meals. We have created a formula using local ingredients, to help them give a balanced diet to their baby. All the work is freely accessible here (https://www.zenodo.org/record/57037/export/xm#.WcauGoxSxPY) and it’s being used in our direct environment. We can help for a local problem, for 10 or 20 children, but cannot do it for the whole village. For a larger impact, it needs to be spread. We don’t get the support we need to do this.

A powerful weapon is education. Imagine: introduce biohacking in the curriculum. What would happen after 10 years, 20 years? How could we do this, since our governments seems inactive? For me the first thing is to hack textbooks by writing ourselves. I did it through this platform : http://www.fabrel.org/.
Without national and/or international support, I feel tired and not sure that I will continue.
I’d love to come to the OpenVillage Festival in October because I want to share my experience with others, continue to build a strong African community of biohacking, shape strategies for the use of Open science in healthcare and mostly, learn from others…

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It was great talking to you in Boston @thomasmboa , happy to see you here! I’m still impressed by your energy to make things better and your view on the maker movement.

I liked the article you wrote, so I’ll include the link here as well :slight_smile:
http://revista.ibict.br/liinc/article/view/3774

For policy inspiration, you may want to check out the Policy Redesigned - collaboratively rewiring inclusivity in to policy session at the festival. Do you think the approach would be applicable to your context?

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@winnieponcelet Compared to many countries in Africa, the approach used there is at an avanced stage of policy designed to take care of people with mobility limitations.
This panel can be so exciting to inspire the design of an african policy inclusive and sensitive to the needs of people with mobility limitations. I guess, in the African context particularly, the first thing to do is to advocate about the necessity of this policy and engage people with mobility limitations in the de shaping of the policy.

Definitely, I am interested to see how science shop in African context can be helpful: to hear about the need, to shape the policy, and to advocate.

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Welcome to edgeryders @thomasmboa, I’m noemi, one of the first around here, currently in living Brussels.
Are you a member of a fablab yourself or do you do your research independently?

You say impact as scale needs government, and gov support is easiest achieved when having international backup. Is international partnerships/ funding/ media something you are staying away from, intentionally, or have you tried and failed? Or maybe you find it very expensive to get that kind of exposure?

In local government, maybe I’m stupidly naive, but frankly I’m even surprised you’re not the city mayor, or one of the “elders” group members, most influential citizens and so on…

We’d love to have you in Brussels, let’s see if there is an affordable option.
In addition to what Winnie writes above, I would say the first day panel on infrastructures for autonomy would benefit massively from your insights: Your understanding of the community dynamics but also government resistance. The take seems to be: where collaboration is not possible, but some of the people in the room might be more optimist. We’ll see. For example, @cindys has been mobilizing groups to do citizen science, maybe there’s examples she can share where barriers have been torn?

Eric Osiakwan, a tech investor in and around the African continent is also joining us for a panel on funding innovation - is there anything you would like to ask him in advance? I’ll ping him so maybe he can already join here.

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Spoken like a true hacker! Welcome, @thomasmboa, and thanks. This is one hell of a post. I am intrigued that you view WHO-defined standards as “the capitalistic system”: I think WHO would disagree, mostly in good faith, but I also think you are mostly right. Standards are classic (anti) competitive weapon – I wrote a paper about it myself, in a very different context, almost 20 years ago.

In OpenCare we have attempted to address this issue. @lakomaa and @tino_sanandaji have been working on a concept they call “evasive entrepreneurship”, which is what happens when entrepreneurial qualities are deployed to circumvent regulation instead of working within its framework. And @amelia has noticed interesting links between ethno codes such as legality and existing systems failure (but also safety) in her analysis (interactive visualization here).

It’s also great that you put your work on zenodo (we do the same), it denotes openness (though the first 20 pages of the thesis appear to be missing). Hope to see you in Brussels, then!

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@noemi Due to my PhD studies at Université Laval, I am currently based in Quebec, where I am a member of the Fablab EspaceLab Québec. As a researcher for the LABCMO (common Lab between Université Québec à Montréal and Université Laval), I am studying some makerspace in Québec. My interest in Biohacking is due to my background in biochemistry. But for my thesis my focus is Africa, that is why the topic is:
Influences des sociétés traditionnelles africaines sur la contribution des tiers-lieux de fabrication numérique au déploiement de la modernité.

Enquête sur l’organisation, les pratiques, les valeurs et les objets de 3 Fablabs du Burkina Faso, du Cameroun et du Sénégal

The government support I am talking about here is : policies to frame community-science action ; encourage the broad adoption of these local initiatives inside the country. Only official communiqué can change the life of many people. Then funding can be useful…

In my context, international partnership is very helpful, because our Government doesn’t support open science and does not seem aware of this field or it is not their priority. But 1) International Organisation used to choose government as the first partner…like that, be sure all the support will not reach to the population. For me it is not the good partner to bring impact where it is needed. 2) International Organization don’t know our realities. They don’t take in consideration that even if you are working with a local collaborator, the traditional structure of African society (family, clan, tribe, ethnic) still has a big influence in our manner to think, manage and organize. 3) It is very easy for Africans in the diaspora to be in touch with international organization and get their support. But for those who cannot travel (it is the case for many leaders and members of Civil Society Organisation (CSO)) ; the international support happens randomly or never.
Me, Mayor (lol)…I am Cameroonian and 34 years old. I don’t want to expose the political environment of my country here. But for a few notes, our President has spent 35 years in power (older than me) ; officially multipartism exists, but the President party is like the unique ; be Mayor means join this Party. And frankly, I am not sure that I will feel comfortable in this system. That is why I work directly with the community through advice and education and my philosophy is that local developement can be ensured only directly with/and inside the community. To support my action I have created in 2010 this school (legal) http://www.zikulumarie-claire.com/, with like 250 students every year. In this school I am doing formal education (nursery and primary) like that, I am training our future leader. I am doing informal and long life education through workshops and seminars, to empower people. I am also doing hygiene sensibilisation, with my mother, who is a retired nurse, we used to run this course : EVA (Education à la Vie et à l’Amour), for sexual hygiene. @noemi I have too much to tell, but through these actions, I feel my impact more tangible and authentic than to be mayor under this system. Perhaps one day, if the system change.
All these reasons explain why I took the decision to do my research in Open Science and particularly DIY ; technology is a good way for communities to ensure themselves their own local development. That is why in December I will launch inside my community, one science shop combined with a lab, for the rapprochement science-society.

Definitely, I really want to join you in Brussels and share with you. Let me know how it is possible. @noemi @winnieponcelet @unknown_author

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Yes @alberto, I understand why you are [quote=“alberto, post:6, topic:7227”]
intrigued that you view WHO-defined standards as “the capitalistic system”:
[/quote]

I am involved in the Open Science Hardware movement, where I meet @unknown_author. There is a big issue now in the forum, where many biohackers are trying to get certifications for their prototypes, and it is amazing to see which kind of barriers they are facing with.
I am wondering, the case of CRISPR the issues are just on ethics and safety? Or behind there is the need of protection of biotechnology industry. :slight_smile:

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A post was split to a new topic: Getting back a post draft

Hello !
It will be nice to have more time to talk than the last time at Cern into the Biofabbing context. Your thinking is addressing most of the worries about what it is and what can be this movement that for years we were thinking and acting. Into my close environment as living at “autonomous” community Calafou and Pechblenda lab and being active at Hackteria network more for the needed than for entertainment.
eg. If everyone is caring about climate change should be researching on that topic to re.appropriate and develop possible solutions; probably they are now doing something because it turns a trend ( and is money ) and looking for this perspective can be ok because is needed to act.
Although if we can look at the intentions and why the people do the things out of the trending and them probably we find people working and developing solutions for the day by day technologies that doesn.t give such a much money right ? The point is what happen when the only thing that is important is to save lifes, save the planet, if we together believe that things can change doesn.t matter the money around … you do the things from the needed, and this is what is the important and what I consider a successful project here, in Africa, in Spain or In Antartida. Doing the things in this way is never payed with money you are been payed with looking at the impact having better conditions and new lines to explore. Of course is not a easy way, because people needs money to survive. We can talk for hours at this level but If I get a bit of distance and I look from the ecofeminisme perspective It will be easy to think on that:

  • why most of the people that wants to protect earth are woman? don’t like to address comparative results, but from what I know and see around I can be comfortable to thinking at that point.
  • why most of the people tha doesn.t care about anything wants to be rich? because the only important thing is to make money …
    and if with this two … we jump also at the topic of power/money destroy everything — nature etc aaaahh is a loop
    we are caring things that power and money destroy for that reason is needed to change everything and this is to difficult

I will love to find people that think in this direction, more about distributed, knowlegde, tools, money, to make balance not empowering and make the other suffering without having the basics, I think this project is around this main topics by the way, for that I consider essential to join.

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http://www.zikulumarie-claire.com/ nice one

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@markomanka might have some insight to offer…

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Hi @nadia

this time I was more comfortable on the sideline, but since you are calling me out…

The issue is complicated and multifaceted, I would immediately give up any attempt at labelling the barriers as “ethical”, “protectionism”, or anything else… there are components of each of the above and more, and the problem is intractable if reduced.

I always recommend a pragmatic approach: what can be learnt from the obstacles and from the conversations collectively held with authorities? In my experience authorities will share many frustrations expressed here about “certifications”, however they will describe the system as “the worst, except all the alternatives”… and in facts, what alternatives are there? Laissez faire? Skin the game? Humankind has been there, done that, and it’s failures that have brought this style of regulation upon us…

Are you aware of communities working on accountability solutions? Cooperating with other organisations (Universities, Regional Governments, … SCImPULSE Foundation :innocent: ) to set-up sandboxes to test alternative models of ensuring public safety, and sustainability of risks- and failures- management?

Until efforts of this sort do not diffuse and do not become convincing, certifications are likely there to stay, and to expand to those territories that are apparently unburdened at the moment… not only for bad reasons.

I don’t know if @costantino, with whom we had recently discussed exactly this in quite some depth, wants to add something, or to correct me…

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hey @thomasmboa was nice briefly meeting you in Brussels.
now reading this and your paper, and thinking about our small discussion with laurel and (…) on fablabs, hackerspaces in different countries.

I really like how you put it that the “alternative” economies ( sharing, circular…etc ) can just get back in the capitalism umbrella within the fablabs, makerspaces, communities.

linking this with @baderdean 's concern on the opensource collaboration within the African communities, also check the link in maping github in this comment on his topic. how do you think an african-african collaboration can come into action, even within communities not governments ( as you mentioned Gov’s in Africa tend to trust European/US entities rather than their own people )

may be also working together towards similar issues, [ could be mainly access to health care, food, clean water ] I don’t understand french but was wondering if your experience with providing healthy diet to babies could be useful in rural Egypt ( ping @HadeerGhareeb @m_tantawy may be you know more about this ? )
Also wondering how the Muslim community in Cameroon dealing with wudu’ water, check this post and tell me if you think this could be suitable to experiment and adapt in the coming science shop there ( if there is a nearby muslim community, or if that is an issue there or not )

in the end thanks for sharing this here, this could inspire others to continue working on localized solutions rather than following the same colonial influence in a new way.

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Thank you @hazem for bringing me here to get to know such an inspiring person like @thomasmboa

for some reason, I am not able to access the link but I am interested in this project.
what age group are you targeting? and do you have a follow-up method, like weighing the kids…etc?

I am not expert with that but I believe that diet wise in rural areas in Egypt is better than the one in cities, however, the unhygienic environment and non-clean water affect their health causing disease like diarrhea and vomiting reflect later on their nutrition state.

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As a result of our conversations over the last weeks, we and the broader DIYbio community will help with collecting machinery for the lab in Cameroon like @thomasmboa envisions it.

If all goes well, there should be an Open Insulin group starting in Cameroon in the coming months. Thomas’ blog post just went live on the website: http://openinsulin.org/open-insulin-in-africa-from-local-communities-to-the-lab/

I’m excited to learn together how we can bring these localized solutions to life, within a relationship of equals, working on a common cause from our unique perspectives.

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Whoa, hurray for @thomasmboa! I really enjoyed reading your post and it is amazing that just 3 weeks ago you were writing about a science shop and a lab, and now you are setting up the lab! Do you intend to make OpenInsulin the core, priority project of the lab?
Very curious to read you again, feel free to re-use parts of that article when you synthetize your reflections from the festival - it’s a very important outcome that people in the network can be proud to have contributed to, somehow.

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I am sure you will also enjoy my post on the festival…be sure that the community is in the root of all. as in the blog on open insulin it is from community to lab…it is one of the consensus I had with @winnieponcelet and @anthony_di_franco.

so I am coming

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I’ve read recently the story of this nigerian boy developing his own mobile app on a feature phone (not android one). He developed an interesting low-tech app that fits his market at the age of 14 without computer! He directly developed on his phone!

But because of the lack of support, he didn’t know how to develop his business and terminate his project.
https://medium.freecodecamp.org/how-i-went-from-programming-with-a-feature-phone-to-working-for-an-mit-startup-40ca3be4fa0f

I think there is a need here for dozens of Elvis Chidera to be helped to develop their own business and/or scale it. Just thinking out loud.

@thomasmboa, since we’re living in a small world, do you know him or have you heard about this story?

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Thank you @baderdean, very interesting. I didn’t know him. I will se how he can attend the www.africaosh.com

Hello @thomasmboa, how are things over there in Cameroon?

Today I found out about some people who think much like you, but are based very far from Africa: southern Mexico.

https://towardfreedom.com/archives/americas/cracks-in-the-wall-of-capitalism-the-zapatistas-and-the-struggle-to-decolonize-science/

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