For over four decades, Africa ’s industrial development had very little to write home about. It is no secret that the continent’s share of global manufacturing has fallen from about three percent in 1970 to less than two percent in 2013. With civil wars, famine, droughts, epidemics, and poverty, there is enough blame to share around. Sierra Leone, at the lower rung of the development ladder, has a population of about seven million people, of which 60 percent is below the age of 25. However, the decade-long civil war in the 90’s; the Ebola outbreak in 2014 to 2016 and the mudslide in 2017 and other challenges have affected the country’s growth at an accelerated rate not least her potential for manufacturing or industrial gains.
Thanks to the Fomel Industry and National Industrialization Centre ( FINIC) established by its Managing Director, Foday Melvin Kamara some twenty-one years ago manufacturing processing machines and conducting skills training for interested persons in industrial mechanics, this narrative is about to change. With its current staff of sixteen persons, FINIC has designed and manufactured a wide range of equipment in almost all of the value chain of rice, palm-oil, mangoes, pineapple, and groundnuts. Prominent among their designs are rice dryers, rice de-stoners, fruit juice extraction machines and palm-oil mills for various communities in the country, according to Kamara.
Added to this growing list of ‘Made in Sierra Leone’ machines that FOMEL has manufactured is the motorcycle ambulance which hopes to bring added value to the healthcare delivery system across the continent. “The ambulance is a six-wheeled unit comprising a motorcycle otherwise referred to as a tractor unit and a canopy on four wheels referred to as the trailer unit. Both are linked by a simple snap fit that can separate the two in seconds to allow the motorcycle to do other errands,” Kamara describes it. He also said that the canopy forms part of a door that opens sideways for boarding and disembarking of the occupant. “ A bed, inclined at 45 degrees at the front end of the trailer unit, provides a comfortable resting spot for the occupant- a pregnant woman or the sick while in motion. The bed forms part of a stretcher. The trailer unit has a suspension system that helps to reduce the effect of road bumps on the occupant. There is also a siren and flasher unit attached to it to as a way of alerting other road users to the ambulance,” he adds.
The idea for the design and construction of a motorcycle ambulance was conceived during the Ebola epidemic. Due to the lack of adequate conventional vehicle ambulances, the former Minister of Energy, Mr. Macauley contacted FINIC and requested them to come up with something. Four months later, the Freetown-based entity but with a branch in Port Loko produced the ambulance.
For Kamara, “ the enormity of the opportunities available in the country is huge, and it is but smart to explore them. Enshrined therein, is a national gain by way of reduction on import dependency and capital flight.” He was, however, not lost on the fact that the materials required for quality goods manufacturing are always an issue and may remain that way for a long time.
The technology used in the construction of the ambulance served as an opener. “ It cleared the path for the design and construction of a motorcycle trailer used for the transportation of agricultural produce from the farm gate to the market centres,” according to the Managing Director. Interestingly, spare parts of motorcycle brands available in Sierra Leone were used in the construction of the motorcycle trailer and ambulance.
Kamara, an Engineer, heartened by the like of his passion for the manufacturing of machines sees himself as someone, “ who is always highly motivated and resourceful to get stuck in the past by making use of available resources in the country.”
His long-term plan is to seek a partnership with the private sector to operate this sort of ambulance service across Africa. “ Running parallel to that is to license the design for fabrication and application elsewhere,” Kamara also revealed. For him, “ there is a growing awareness of ambulance service across Rural Africa.”
Regrettably, he noticed that budgetary allocation for healthcare, “ is always deficient in meeting the spread of the service in remote areas where the motorcycle ambulance serves well.”
The Director believes what they do at FINIC is rare in Africa. However, he regrets that his work has not yet caught the attention of the government. His resolve, though to remain committed to the contribution of the development of technology to help turn the farmer into a much more industrialised person remains unshaken. His demand from the government is for security, stability, energy, and good roads.
Foday Melvin Kamara was born in Kamakwie, northern Sierra Leone. He attended the Government Technical Institute, Kissy. Upon his graduation with a certificate in motor mechanics, he was offered a technical teaching position in the same institution. He later proceeded to Germany for further advanced training in automotive engineering. On his return, he taught at the Sierra Leone Road Transportation Corporation Technical Training School until 2007 when he established FINIC. On his mind, was the idea to set up a business entity to take advantage of the enormous gap existing between manufacturing and consumerism in Sierra Leone.