Dined last night in an outdoor garden on platters of nyama choma
(roast meat), ugali and chips, and chatted with Ben and Tito, two
young Kenyan computer technologists presently residing in Meru,
a small town in the mountains east of Mount Kenya in central
Nairobi -- not too sure of my geography yet since I don't have a
map, but I'm pretty sure that's where I was!
We talked networking and shot a few rounds of pool until about
10pm, by which time the temperature had plunged to about 18C
(65F) and I had to retreat to my hotel for warmth -- I still haven't
figured out high altitude weather planning!
Ben is a recent graduate of the Jomo Kenyatta University
continuing education program. Among other courses, they offer
computer systems design and networking certificates to high
school graduates who are admitted based on high O-level marks
(high school grades). He's quite knowledgeable about configuring
and cabling local area networks, Internet technologies, and so
forth, though the wiring of Kenya Methodist University (KeMU) in
Meru is one of his first practical projects. He's KeMU's staff
computer center guru, and they're lucky to have him given what I'm
told is a rather severe shortage of qualified technicians in Kenya.
Tito's father works at KeMU, thus affording him access to the
university's computer lab. A recent secondary school graduate, he
spends a significant chunk of his time designing Web pages. I
didn't see any samples in my short time there, but I'm told he's
pretty good. I understand he's thinking about a degree in Silicon
Valley in the USA.
I traveled to Meru with Mike, a computer systems administrator at
the United States International University of Nairobi. With senior
KeMU staff we toured facilities -- a snazzy new library, labs,
classrooms -- then sat down to discuss how to piece together a
solid proposal for building local area networks and linking them all
to the Internet.
Mike was great -- his school has already been through this, and he
had lots of practical ideas to share, as well as a thorough
knowledge of equipment specs and prices. Perhaps one way
USAID and other donors can be more helpful is by supporting more
of such exchanges among university staff around Africa. There's
such a wealth of knowledge on the continent.
I was intrigued by many of KeMU staff's questions. For example,
what's the most effective way to control browsing on the Web? We
talked about education, monitoring, and policy approaches, rather
than hardware or software solutions. What about integrated
database systems for student records and the finance office? We
discussed ways small universities like KeMU might weigh the
costs and benefits of automation -- manual, paper based systems
are often just fine for small organizations, and can save lots of
We heard about one software tailored for universities that can cost
$250,000 -- a bit beyond the reach of most small schools, but
apparently in common use by major universities in North America
and elsewhere. The normative message floating around these days
seems to be that if you're not using computers for everything, you
must be quite backward. Strikes me as a rather silly notion. Was
pleased to see the administrators of KeMU felt likewise.
For the most part, we talked about what KeMU can do internally,
without access to the Internet, to improve its systems, especially
its student laboratories. Having such things in place can make
eventual Internet access all the more valuable and accessible to
students and staff, once it arrives, which we hope will be quite soon.
For me, it was an opportunity to see how the Leland Initiative of
USAID operates in practice. It was a most rewarding and
enlightening experience. I look forward to revisiting KeMU for the
official throwing of the Internet switch.
We departed Meru this morning, just before lunch. I had no real
idea of the geographic diversity of Kenya before this trip, and I'm
sure my knowledge is still quite incomplete. What a beautiful
place! We plunged down out of the mountains through Embu on a
fine road, though one small part had been washed out awhile back
due apparently to El Nino -- seems everything was due to El Nino
There's a great little club in Embu with an outdoor bar that serves
chips and sausage. We stopped just out of town to collect penny
avocados and other fine produce from very friendly women with
tables by the roadside. One was quite persistent with her green
beans, a quarter kilo for 20 shillings (US$0.30).
In the plains between Embu and Nairobi we passed a tremendous
rice production area with neat paddy fields, bright green about one
month along. Near Thika we stopped at the Del Monte pineapple
plantation and picked out some nice big ones along with boxed
juice for only 65 shillings a liter (US$.90).
Takes about three hours to drive at a reasonable pace from Meru to
Nairobi. We cruised into the outskirts of Nairobi around 4pm, past
the new USAID buildings in Kasarani. I understand our fiber
network is now operational, and the furniture for my new office is
due to arrive on Monday. I'm told the phone system in that
neighborhood is linked to a digital exchange -- looking forward to
Jeff @ Nairobi
Tel +254 (2) 581473
Email [log in to unmask]
PO Box 30261