The Innovators: Trials of a trailblazer
 

Rajab Ali Andishmand has invented traffic safety devices, guillotine scissors for steel, even a drone prototype. He is the founder of the Afghanistan Association of Intellectual Properties and has won awards in and outside of Afghanistan. All he and many other mechanically talented countrymen need now is for their own government to take notice.

Rajab Ali Andeshmand's drone in his living roomInventor Rajab Ali Andishmand's drone - in his living room. (Photos: Massood Momin)

Rajab Ali Andishmand has invented everything from an unmanned aerial vehicle to guillotine scissors, yet neither caught the attention of half a dozen governments in the last 30 years. Most of the inventor’s prototypes are still languishing in his home; waiting to be recognized and put into production.

“As a kid I could look at a machine and know how it was made inside – I could see it inside out," recalls Andishmand, 52, a modest man who has dedicated almost four decades to making devices and systems to improve life.

Even though his mother and father were illiterate, as a young man the future seemed bright.

Scholarship material

His first invention was a small loader-digger he built when he was 15-years-old, which caught the eye of the Ministry for Mines. Having impressed the minister, Andishmand was awarded a place at Jangalak Technical College, where he graduated in mechanical engineering. The Jangalak Factory in Kabul employed him soon after, where Andishmand worked as a machine engineer for ten years.

“As a kid I could look at a machine and know how it was made inside – I could see it inside out." Rajab Ali Andishmand.

In the 1980s, Andishmand added a slicing machine and guillotine scissors to his repertoire and won first prize in a national award from the Science and Engineering School of Kabul University in 1988. Despite susbsequent years spent partly abroad and in difficult conditions, Andishmand continued to conceive of new creations.

He worked in a factory in Iran making molds, perfecting prototypes in his time off. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, he returned to Aghanistan with his family. Since then things have gone downhill.

The latest participant in Robot Wars? No, Andeshmand's loader-digger, the prototype for which the inventor built when he was 15-years-old.A participant in Robot Wars? No, the inventor's award-winning loader-digger, the prototype of which he built when he was 15.

“I went on a hunger strike to attract the attention of the government of Afghanistan to my work, but they didn't do anything,” says the inventor, who despairs at the routine failure of national authorities to embrace homegrown solutions and to simply import expensive foreign-made variants.

Despite his auspicious start in engineering as a young man, department after department has ignored his industry since. Only once, according to him, did a US entrepreneur take a concept out of his hands for a handful of change. As for the other occasions, 'I've been tricked so many times," he admits.

Now living in Kabul and with five children, four of whom are at university, Andishmand has struggled to find sponsors for his creations. "I've shed tears and sweat, I've gone hungry and thirsty and run after every company there is until my feet hurt ... I don't care what happens to me, as long as I can present my inventions to the world," he says.

He had offers from Iran when he was younger but forwent them to keep his inventions in and for Afghanistan. “My problem was I never played politics. I never wanted to join a party – that is why I was ignored," says Andishmand: "I wanted to do it for humanity."

Years later, he has almost given up hope of finding any Afghan investors, and almost refers to his neglected designs like tragic love affairs.

“I am not going to work on inventions anymore,” he recently told a group of Afghanistan Today journalists in Kabul. In fact, he says that the futility of so much work now inclines him to destroy it all publicly. Looking into his bloodshot eyes, it is easy to believe that his words are more than hyperbole. But it shouldn’t have come to this.

Patentless society

The inventor Rajab Ali AndeshmandAndishmand talking to Afghanistan Today journalists in October.

For innovators like Andishmand, some of whom Afghanistan Today has profiled this year, the country has few support mechanisms. There is no concept of patent or copyright – the Afghanistan Association of Intellectual Properties was founded by Andishmand himself, counts no more than a dozen members, and is but a conscientious gesture in a climate of piracy and theft of ideas, he says.

The inventor lives in Kabul with his wife and children, who he says have supported and indulged his passion for years, but have now had enough of the clutter of his quest. The family home's living room doubles as his workshop, where naval safety devices and pieces of recycled industrial machinery lie side-by-side, idle but still cherished by their maker.

“My inventions are like my kids, I have no favourites," says Andishmand, who places the emphasis on his devices mainly reducing accidents and improving safety.

"I have invented a shield, which would be placed on the lower part of a car. It would be connected to the steering wheel with a switch and a sort of suspension.

"If the car were to collide or impact at 70 or 80 kilometres an hour, spring buffers emerge to absorb the shock waves," he explains. Citing high numbers of people killed and injured in traffic accidents, he is sure that his system would reduce the toll dramatically.

Afghan construction work should theoretically create a market for Andishmand's steel cutting and grinding tools too. He is still waiting.

Breakthrough or bust

Meanwhile, the innovator's only income is 200 dollars a month earned repairing machines at a local factory.

It seems odd that in a country desperate to build new infrastructures, people with such engineering experience and vision would be overlooked. But apart from a recent offer to work in a mine shaft for 35 dollars a month, Andishmand says he has received little other encouragement, funding or support.

He cuts a sorry figure in his dusty sandals and worn spectacles, and exudes an air of finality at this stage in his life. Unless a serious backer steps forward, his next creation, he says, will be a bonfire of the vanities. 

“I’m growing old and no one is paying attention to me. Soon I will call a big press conference and burn all my inventions in public.”

 
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