Asmelash Zeferu is an Ethiopian dude that needs no further introduction on this forum because he has been briefly covered in one or two recent articles.
He applied for admission to a flying school, but was turned down on account of his short stature. I never knew that height was an issue for those aspiring to pursue a flying career. Asmelash had such a passion for flying that even after being turned away from a flying school he vowed to one day fly AN aircraft, someone else’s if possible, or his own if necessary.
No sooner had he turned his back on the flying school than did Asmelash embark on a project to build his own aircraft. On June 15 (which, incidentally is this columnist’s birthday), 2015, Zeferu’ aircraft, the Zeferu K-570A, underwent a flight test, which did not go well. The propeller disintegrated and forced the enthusiastic manufacturer back to his drawing board.
One characteristic of successful inventors is that they do not give up. It took the Wright Brothers several attempts before they finally could make their machine fly, albeit covering a distance of a mere 61 metres at an altitude of three metres. The Wright brothers’ machine was far from a commercial success, but it was important in that it demonstrated for the first time in history that piloted flying was possible. Later, other people developed the aeroplane further by adding a series of improvements and refinements to it. Today, we have all manner of aircraft, most of which Wilbur and Orville Wright would not have thought possible.
It takes coordinated effort for projects like Zeferu’s to become a technological or commercial breakthrough. Obviously, Zeferu cannot achieve this, acting alone. He needs support from other equally enthusiastic people.
A telecommunications company, ZTE, recently announced its support to Zeferu to help him develop his aircraft further. Said Zhang Jintao, ZTE deputy CEO, during the signing of a memorandum of understanding between ZTE and Mr Zeferu: “The Company acknowledges Asmelash’s creativity and the positive impact that can initiate and trigger the minds of other fellow Ethiopians to innovation of advanced technologies in the future.”
The real value of Ashmelash’s effort was adequately expressed in this statement: to initiate and trigger the minds of other fellow Ethiopians to innovation. Back home, we have had a few individuals who have toiled all alone to try and create something. The nation has simply looked on and sometimes even discouraged such innovation on the pretext that it would not be a commercial success.
True, Malawi’s Felix Kambwiri’s helicopter may not immediately fly and in fact will probably never be used to carry passengers or cargo from one point to another, but it will for sure triggers the minds of other Malawians to innovation of advanced technologies, to borrow the words of Zhang Jintao. From that perspective, it is a project worth supporting.
I salute the late Dr. Mchazime for bringing to the attention of the world the effort of one William Kamkwamba of Kasungu, who, as a boy, built a windmill, which supplied power to his parents’ house at Masitala Village. Financial and material support poured in, yes in leaps and bounds, and today, William is a proud holder of a degree in Environmental Engineering from Dartmouth College.
A quick search within Malawi will show that there are a number of people that need support in order to get somewhere with their innovations. Kambwiri is the obvious one, but I believe there are many like him. Such support does not always have to be financial. Even technical support, a suggested refinement for example, will go a long way towards pushing the project(s) forward.
As I am writing, Kambwiri’s helicopter project has been halted because he has run out of cash. Are there any well-wishers out there? Perhaps we will see some of them coming forward in 2017.