I returned recently from a trip to Uganda and Kenya. While most of my friends are certain that this was a relaxing safari my main purpose was to deliver a keynote address on e-books and new information technology to the African Crop Science Society conference in Entebbe, Uganda. While I was there my colleague Ross Wein and I visited Universities, libraries, and government agencies to learn more about the opportunities for using e-books, e-journals and other technology in science and education.
We also re-visited areas where we as students with Operation Crossroads Africa had spent time in 1964.
There have been some significant changes in the past 41 years: there is increased prosperity in the upper income sectors of society and even in the lower income sectors. However, poverty is a major problem as is HIV/AIDS. Urbanization – which includes numerous shanty towns in Nairobi and Kampala – is creating (or allowing us to focus on) serious social and environmental problems. Deforestation and cultivation threaten the physical stability of hillside farms. Drought has been a serious concern: Kenya has not had the expected seasonal rains for three years.
Nevertheless, many people are optimistic about the future, especially with respect to tourism. Tourists fly in and out of Nairobi's Wilson Airport to exotic locales such as Maasai Mara. Safari companies take other tourists on day trips to see wildlife. One can be picked up at a five star hotel in Nairobi early in the morning and be taken through the Nairobi National Park, returning for lunch to chat about the wildlife one has seen just 7 km from the city centre. It's perhaps the smallest but the most accessible park in east Africa.
Most people feel some connection to or significant interest in the landscapes and the people of Africa. That may be due to movies such as Out of Africa or articles in National Geographic, but there may be more basic reasons. The challenges that African countries are attempting to meet are important to all of us.