Wandering through winding alleys dotted with makeshift worksheds, one can’t help but feel clouded by the clanging of hammers on metal, grinding of bandsaws on wood, and the shouts of workers making sales. But soon it becomes clear that this cacophony is really a symphony of socioeconomic interactions that form what is known as the informal economy. In Kenya, engineers in the informal economy are known as jua kali, Swahili for “hot sun,” because they toil each day under intense heat and with limited resources. But despite these conditions, or in fact because of them, the jua kali continuously demonstrate creativity and resourcefulness in solving problems.
In Making Do: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy, Steve Daniels illuminates the dynamics of the sector to enhance our understanding of African systems of innovation. The result of years of research and months of fieldwork, this study examines how the jua kali design, build, and manage through theoretical discussions, visualizations of data, and stories of successful and struggling entrepreneurs. What can we learn from the creativity and bricolage of these engineers? And how can we as external actors engage with the sector in a way that removes barriers to innovation for the jua kali and leverages their knowledge and networks to improve the lives of those who interact with them?