An Ethiopian beautiful mind: the story of a young inventor
Israel Belema is a 24-year-old young inventor. He was born and raised
in Western Shoa zone, Ginichi, some 90 kilometers away from Addis
Ababa. The young Computer Engineer with a beautiful mind to invent many
things is currently in Spain working on security projects facilitated by
Economic Commission for Africa.
As a child, Israel was always into poring over electronic materials due to a strong urge that he has to invent things.
used to fix radios, wrist watches, and televisions. I repair the items
from thrown away materials that I have collected and reuse the parts.”
young man used to sit by the road side in his neighborhood and the
market place to fix defective radios and watches for people. As he was a
young person people did not trust him but eventually he opened a small
maintenance shop which later on helped him a lot to be come well
acquainted with maintenance. This also helped him to anticipate for a
better life and prosperous future.
“My shop was literally
empty. I put defective TV sets for display and empty cartons with other
items to fill the shop in order to make people trust me.”
working in his shop on a normal day, his elder brother, who knew his
interest in discovering new things, asked him to go with him to a
telephone center. That gave him a glimpse for his inventing future.
never heard of a telephone center before. I asked him what he meant and
he said we are going there to make a phone call and we went together.
When we got to the telephone center, I saw people speaking into devices
and I wondered how they were speaking through the device while there is
nobody around them to talk back.”
His brother told him that the
people were communicating with others in another city or elsewhere and
that they can speak to them by using the device. Israel, who never stops
asking, went on seeking for more explanation from his brother as to how
it is possible to talk through the wire and was also wondering if the
people from the other side physical come through the wire.
went back to the telephone center some other day and looked into the
compound of the center. I have observed a huge bowl in the compound. I
did not know about satellite dishes back then. Since my brother had
mentioned that the devices generate sound, I thought that there must be
devices similar to the black things [Integrated Circuits] that are found
Then he started taking out similar item from radios
and collected them. To simulate the satellite dish that he saw, he took a
tray from his parent’s kitchen and he re-shaped it into a dish-like
shape. Then he mounted it on the tree. For the center part of the dish,
he took an empty butter tin cup and put some wires and magnets together
with the IC.
“As soon as I did that I started hearing sounds
from the surrounding area. After that, I asked people, who knew about
telecommunications, if the method that I have used is the right way to
transmit a sound and they said the method was correct but the sounds
have to be filtered.”
Israel had no idea on how to filter sounds
but he thought it must have something to do with selecting sounds. Then
he started working to select specific sounds using a radio tuner. After
that he was able to select and filter sounds. After his first attempt
was successful, he started building a telephone handset using mud and
cement to mold.
Using the hand set he built, with his first
trial, he was able to hear noise from the surrounding. He wanted to
listen to a single person’s voice so he used some components from a
radio and used it and he was able to hear a single sound.
first tested the phone by calling my mother in Addis and I was surprised
when I heard her voice. Then the news that I have built a phone was
spread around the neighborhood and everybody started asking me to
install one for them as well.”
He was only 13 years old when he
made the telephone by himself and he started installing telephones to
his neighbors. Then his school asked him to install a telephone system
in the school and he installed one for them as well. This is when the
news reached to the town’s telecommunication branch office.
personnel from the then Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC)
branch office contacted me and told me that I am involved in an illegal
activity. I replied that what I did was not illegal and that I would
like to talk to the manager. I had the courage to make a call to the
head office of the ETC and talked to the corporation’s public relation
manager, Abdurahim Ahmed.”
Israel told the public relation
manager that people are going to stop him from installing telephones.
The surprised manager asked how he did it and he told him about the
accomplishment and the handset was built from mud and cement. “He
thought I was joking. He asked me if I can come to Addis Ababa and was
on my way to the La Gare office of the ETC. During my stay I saw people
making telephone calls on the street (public phones). When I got back to
home I used cans to make similar public phone system and people started
using it paying 20 and 50 cents.”
When Israel met with Abdurahim
in Addis Ababa, the ETC staff saw all the work he has done and
Abdurahim advised him to present his work to the Ethiopian Science and
Technology Commission (ESTC) and Israel did that.
“They said that
I was not able to talk in scientific terms. But they were right, back
then; I had no idea about the right technical terms. I was referring to
the materials that I have used as ‘black thing’ for the IC and the
‘iron’ for the magnet. Due to that reason experts from ETC and ESTC were
assigned to inspect my works in my town.”
The experts did not
believe the young man really built the telephone. However, right after
they got there they made phone calls, tested his telephones and reported
back to ETC and EST.
“After that I prepared a document made a
presentation about how the system works and I was granted the first
patent in Ethiopia in the area of Telecommunications. At that time I
was in grade 10.”
ETC offered him satellite, broadband,
communications and related training at its training center. While
taking his trainings at ETC he was attending his 11th and 12th grade
education in distance form Ginchi secondary school. After two years of
training, he graduated from high school he joined Micro Link College and
studied Computer Engineering. He worked on VIP controlling system as
his graduation project.
“In between, I was introduced to car
security alarms and mobile systems. Then I thought instead of having
separate devices for these purpose, why we can’t use the mobile itself
as an alarm. Then I studied about a car system in one day and
implemented a car security system in the mobile phone system.”
this new system, when the door of the car opens, a call is made to the
owner, when the steering wheel is touched a call is made to a specific
company and for more than ten people that the car’s owner have listed as
If no one responds in time, then the car makes a call to the federal police and the car will indicate its location.
also worked and presented an editing system for the ETC to show how
grateful he is for getting all the opportunities. The editing machine
facilitates recording and editing all together.
The young person
with a beautiful mind then started to think about electricity. “The
telecom lines together with internet lines run in to our houses in
addition to the electric lines. I asked myself why we use separate
lines. And I have decided to bring them all together. I continued
thinking about how I can achieve this. I believed that it will be
possible but I had consulted my colleagues and they said the power will
burn the lines and devices.”
However, Israel is the type of
person who will never refrain from a task in fear of losing or burning
things out. Since video is more difficult to transmit than sound and
image, he started trying with video.
“I wanted to be able to
plug a device into a power socket and be able to view the video
transmitted through the power line. I made a test system and put two
bulbs. Then the data will be transmitted over the line so I started
thinking about how it can accept and transmit data. The power line has
high voltage. Fiber line has its own speed characteristics. And I
thought the power should be greater (a system transferring power should
be able to transfer data if the voltage is zero so the data should be
transmitted. If it has voltage, then we should be able to extract the
data we want from the power line. This can be made while the bulb light
is still on. Then I tried it and I was able to transmit the video over
power line. I was able to use the line for video while still using it
Israel believes that instead of saying it is not
possible, it is better to try it. He says that if we use electronics
system, we can find good solutions for many things.
various projects that he is involved in and has invented, one is a
tanker that can water a farm. The inventor asked himself why a farmer
has to go to his farm to water after planting his crops.
farmer can water his farm from his home. If he has a mobile device in
his hand, he can send a signal to the water tanker and the tanker can do
the job for him.” Israel has also made a system that informs the farmer
when the tanker is full.
With this creation when gets that message, he can order the water tanker to start watering the farm.
believes that it is possible to use mobile devises to operate household
items. For instance, instead of switching on the water boiler after
reaching home, he created a system that can make the boiler start
heating the water by making a phone call to the boiler.
houses security, when a house is being robbed, instead of getting a
phone call from a security guard or a neighbor the house itself can
create an alarm and make a signal on the owners mobile. “When I get the
alarm signal on my mobile, I can call back to the house and control the
camera system installed in the house to record every activity. That
allows me to monitor what is recorded in the house from where I am. I
can also order the house to lock the gates while the thief is still in
On a final note, he believes that if a person can
think freely that person can come up with amazing inventions that would
contribute much to the world. Israel wants to keep on inventing and in
the future he wants to establish is own invention center.