Digital refugees or can South Sudan incubate itself into prosperity?

Saturday April 13 2024

Sudanese refugees, who fled the violence in their country, wait to receive food supplies from a Turkish aid group (IHH) near the border between Sudan and Chad in Koufroun, Chad on May 7, 2023. PHOTO | REUTERS


On March 15, South Sudan’s Ministry of Health issued a public health advisory on the impact of heat waves on the human body after daily temperatures hit 45 degrees Celsius. Separately, the country’s telecommunication regulator announced a winning innovation that could temper the furnace in their motherland.

Ironically, the innovators live 390km south of the country’s capital, in the Rhino Camp refugee settlement of northern Uganda, having fled the South Sudan violence in 2016. But now their innovation – along with two others – is lined up for patenting as intellectual property of the country of their birth.

“Egg incubator is the product we built,” says Kwaje Steven Taban, a 30-year-old student of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at ISBAT University, and team leader at Creative Innovation Centre, a group of eight refugees.

The incubator, delivered at a shoestring $180 budget – is made from e-waste – thus helping to recycle old electronic gadgets and hence delivering environmental justice while also creating jobs for youths that may drop out of school, and target poultry farmers – a booming agri-business – in South Sudan and Uganda.

Read: Unhappy return for S. Sudan refugees

“This machine can help many poultry farmers in Rhino camp refugee settlement to access chics at cheap prices to grow their poultry businesses. The demand for poultry birds is rapidly increasing and we feel it is more beneficial to invest in this field,” says Kwaje.


“The egg incubator is connected to the cloud where the temperature, humidity, air quality, and egg turning can be monitored and controlled remotely anywhere in the world with the help of sensors and actuators using the concept of IoT [Internet of Things],” he explained.

According to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020 – released at the end of 2022 – waste from electronics, including cell phones, computers, and other digital devices, represents the world’s fastest-growing waste stream, and is one of the biggest environmental pollutants and contributors to global warming.

The Global E-waste Monitor estimates that between 2014 and 2020, greenhouse gas emissions from selected e-waste generated from ICT devices increased by 53 percent, with 580 million metric tonnes (MMT) of CO2 emitted in 2020.

In 2019 alone, approximately 53 MMT of e-waste was generated, of which only 17.4 percent were recycled.

Without specific interventions such as recycling, eco-design, source reduction, repair, refurbishment, and reuse, these emissions were set to increase by approximately 852 MMT of CO2e annually by 2030, while increasing the useful lifespan expectancy of electronic devices by 50 – 100 percent could mitigate up to half of the total GHG emissions.

These e-waste reduction strategies can be a key to efforts towards climate neutrality for the electronics industry, which is currently among the top eight sectors accounting for more than 50 percent of the global carbon footprint, the Global E-waste Monitor reported.

This report is instructive for CIC, which forecasts an e-waste epidemic in South Sudan, where Juba alone has two million smartphones and tonnes of other electronic gadgets, with no recycling mechanisms considering that about 80-85 percent of e-waste is not formally collected or properly managed.

Read: Why peace has eluded South Sudan

“With just three days of incubation, we have achieved promising results. Imagine what we could do in four months,” says Yine Yenki, a board member of South Sudan’s telecom industry regulator, the National Communications Authority (NCA), who set up and oversaw the incubation of these products.

“Let’s keep pushing the boundaries and exploring the possibilities of innovation,” she adds, saying the innovation lab is a homegrown solution for the needs of South Sudanese and creates a better future for its young population”.

In its fourth year since inception, the NCA decided to explore innovation as South Sudan aims to launch itself into the digital space and leapfrog her peers that enjoy political and economic stability. “Connecting South Sudan Innovation Lab is a beacon of hope,” says Ms Yenki.

“It empowers innovators and entrepreneurs to positively impact their communities and address the challenges limiting digital inclusion in South Sudan. The lab is the first of its kind organised at the national level.”

On March 16, the NCA concluded its fourth symposium, with a call for innovation, riding on the success of the current incubation lab graduates, some of whose innovations were picked for patenting to solve local problems, while others could provide solutions beyond the borders of South Sudan.

Kwaje, who holds an electronics and electrical engineering diploma from Nakawa Vocational Training College in Kampala, is responsible for the circuit analysis and design.

He works with (project manager) Mambo Emmanuel Taban – a second-year computer science student at Uganda Martyrs University, who did the programming of the incubator, Knite Fiona and Viola Sunday, who assembled and tested the product and Mambo Bullen who designed the casing.

Others are John Albert Diko, who did the documentation, and Moro David who handles the finances and administration work for the group.