The most innovative minds of the next decade will come from Africa. Uganda’s Samuel Malinga is proof of this

Despite being a crucial part of the just expired Millennium Development Goals, seven out of every ten persons in sub-Saharan Africa still do not have access to improved sanitation. Over 200 million people in the region still defecate in the open, thus contaminating water and land, and leading directly to diseases such as diarrhea and cholera, which are responsible for the second highest number of deaths of children in Africa. Nowhere is this challenge more pronounced than in Uganda where about 65 percent of the population do not have access to improved sanitation. It is within this challenge that Samuel Malinga grew up and for which he has created an innovative ‘sludge management system’ with the potential to significantly improve sanitation in his country and the region as a whole.

Young, creative and passionate about his community, Malinga is the archetypical African innovator. From a rural community in the very poor Kumi District of North East Uganda, Malinga grew up with the harsh socioeconomic challenges which pervade most African communities. At age 12 he moved to the Naguru slums in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, and there he was faced with the community-wide problem of poor sanitation and lack of proper faeces and waste management. These difficulties inspired Malinga to think up innovative solutions that would tackle head on the pervasive challenges in rural areas, like the one he hails from, and urban slums, like the one in which he grew up in. One of his innovations is the conversion of faecal sludge into briquettes that basically do a better job as cooking fuel than charcoal or firewood.

Malinga began to develop designs for sludge management right after gaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Engineering. Seeing how many of the households in his neighbourhood struggled with filled pit toilets, he came up with a desludging pump that empties the pits in a more effective, cleaner and less stressful way. Instead of disposing the waste, which would in turn only create more waste in a society already battling too much of it, he decided to also fashion out a way to reuse it, and thus came the idea of a cooking briquettes. However, it takes quite a process for the faeces in the pit latrines to transform into cooking fuel, and Malinga and his team built that process—in the form of a full-cycle sanitation service—from scratch.

The system begins with a modular latrine called the DuraSan which Malinga and his team made from durable, interlocking, precast concrete blocks. It is then followed by a low-cost pit emptying pump which he named the Rammer, a primary transportation device, and his self-developed Decentralized Faecal Sludge Treatment System (DFSTS). Malinga says the DuraSan can be constructed within 2-3 days, is long-lasting, cheaper than digging the usual pits and detachable, meaning it can even be acquired on rent basis. The Rammer makes emptying full pits swift and clean, while to transport the sludge he can use a Pickup truck or PikiPiki, as tricycles are known in Uganda. The core of the job comes when the faeces arrive in his DFSTS, which he made with rota-mould plastic tanks. After it has undergone several treatment processes, Malinga and his team dry the solid portion of the sludge using solar power, feed it into a reactor unit which they also built themselves and burn it at a temperature of over 300°C in order to destroy all pathogens. Afterwards, if the sludge has a low clay content, it is mixed with molasses, if it is not, it goes straight into either stick or honeycomb mould to produce stick briquettes and honey comb briquettes respectively. While the Stick briquette is then dried for 3 days and can be used in the place of charcoal in a charcoal stove, the honeycomb briquette is dried for a further two days and has its own kind of stove. “They are not only low cost,” Malinga said, “they also burn longer and poultry farmers prefer them as a source of heat for their bird, and they help protect the environment.”

Malinga’s full cycle sanitation service gained international recognition when the Royal Academy for Engineering (RAENG) nominated him for its debut Africa Engineering Innovation award. The RAENG lauded his innovation for addressing the entire faecal sludge management chain in a continent where over 600 million people have no access to improved sanitation. In practice, the benefits of his work goes a lot farther than that. It brings together the effort to improve public and community hygiene in order to fight the many diseases that their lack causes, such as diarrhea, with the global campaign to save the environment—from further deforestation and carbon emission—and at the same time creates badly needed jobs. The areas impacted by his innovation represents Malinga’s responses to the challenges he grew up with. “I am from a rural area so I understand the struggle of farmers and the general socioeconomic lack that we all face. I have also seen the negative impact of our reliance on charcoal and firewood for cooking on our environment. In Naguru I witnessed the unpleasant effects of poor sanitation, and these all inspired me to innovate solutions.”

Although the most popular, the full cycle sanitation service, is only one of Samuel Malinga’s several innovations. He has developed cheaper irrigation systems, water harvesting structures, and modern integrated fish farming methods for rural farmers. He has also built innovative structures for poultry farming, goat and pig keeping, and additionally carried out trainings in modern agricultural techniques for farmers, who mostly have limited basic education. He is also involved in training engineers especially in the areas of water provision and sanitation. “We have to also see water and sanitation as business avenues and train entrepreneurs in these areas so that they are financially empowered by their work and the community gains from their greater effectiveness which the government often struggles to provide,” he says.

As an entrepreneur himself, Malinga’s innovations are also commercially viable and adaptable beyond his country.  “We are currently implementing some of our technologies in Kamwenge, Kampala, Wakiso, Jinja, Masaka, Mbarara, Kitgum, Bukedea districts in Uganda,” he said. “The desludging pump called the Rammer has been bought by WASH organisations in Kenya (Practical Action, UMANDE trust, and Waste Entreprisers), Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique. One Tanzanian NGO is also showing interest. Since October, 2014, we have constructed over 350 modular latrines and we are having discussions with some NGOs who wish to make big orders. Some NGOs also want to implement pit emptying in schools using our desludging pump. Several new entrepreneurs have also joined the pit emptying business, most of whom I have trained.”

Malinga says his ambition is to take the full suite of technologies to all parts of Uganda and into other countries facing similar challenges in faecal sludge management, including Zambia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi, among others. He plans to partner governments and non-governmental organisations, as well as set up franchise businesses for entrepreneurs in other countries to take advantage of. “These technologies can be applied everywhere in Africa,” he enthused. “I’m aware of some countries like Burkina Faso, Mali in West Africa, and others that can be served with our technologies.” For him, his innovations tie into his goal of contributing significantly to the development of quality sanitation across the continent, creating socioeconomic empowerment through entrepreneurship and most importantly protecting the environment by reducing and reusing waste.