Valuing the African Genius

William Kamkwamba

William Kamkwamba is a Malawian inventor, born in 1987, who became famous worldwide at age 14, for building a windmill out of junk to generate electricity in his village. His story is narrated in the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind that he co-authored with journalist Bryan Mealer.

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William Kamkwamba was forced to drop out of school because his parents could no longer afford the tuition fees following a drought in Malawi. Undeterred, the young boy decided to learn by himself. He went to a local library and realised that he was fascinated by science.

One day he found a book in which he saw a picture of a windmill and thought that the windmill could generate electricity and help pump water. He decided he could build one just by looking at the figures and pictures. He finally figured out by himself how to make one.

He made a turbine from spare bicycle parts, a tractor fan blade and an old shock absorber. He then produced windmill blades from plastic pipes, flattened by heating them over a fire. He sometimes experienced a few electric shocks while climbing the windmill.

The first windmill he built was apparently 5 meters (16 feet) high and was made from a blue-gum-tree (eucalyptus) wood tower. Since then, William Kamkwamba has manufactured other windmills. One of them is used to turn on a water-pump to irrigate his family’s field.

Energy - Power Menu

Profile reviewed: January 4, 2017

First publication: January 2010