Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Nairobi, my, how you’ve changed and yet stayed the same

By Kathleen Diga (16 September 2012)
It has been five years since I last visited Nairobi, Kenya, and my, how things have changed.  First of all, where have all the potholes disappeared to?  I travelled 36 kilometres up the incredible 8 lane, fast Thika Road ‘superhighway’ – an infrastructural phenomenon for the Nairobi population and a relief from the heavy traffic usually experienced downtown - to find the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).  This university hosts one of SIRCA Africa scholars, Dr. Stephen Kimani, who, with his team is currently researching on the status of women in Science and Technology (S&T) in Kenya. Through such research, they hope to then develop an online portal which is usable for young women to be encouraged to academically join this broad S&T discipline which has, in the past, been poorly represented by this demographic.


The SIRCA Kenya team photo at JKUAT campus (Photo credit:  Kathleen Diga)
In the Photo:  (l-r) Dr Ronald Waweru Mwangi, Ms Eunice Njeri, Ms Kathleen Diga, Dr. Stephen Kimani, and Mr. John Njue

I found myself at a quiet campus off Thika Road, as Kenyan universities are currently on strike, an industrial action that have faculty and staff asking the government to honour the collective bargaining agreements which were set back in 2008.  Despite this action, amongst many other obstacles, JKUAT faculty like Stephen strives on to deliver on their commitments of high quality research work.  With that said, this Kenyan team is in midst of administering its questionnaires to female students, S&T mentors and web experts who will help determine how such an online collaborative tool can be used to maximize its impact on bringing more women into the science fields within the country.    

After that trip, I also got to visit Angela and see iHub Research for the first time!   While their offices are downstairs and the iHub is upstairs, it is truly a fabulous place to get coding or get those thoughts out for the next amazing mobile application to throw down in Nairobi.  And they have great coffee...

In the photo:  me and Angela!

Despite the incredible headway from its transport infrastructure and its momentum with innovation in ICTs and gender research, all of this progress can also as easily regress should there be a repeat of the 2008 post-election violence given the upcoming Kenyan election.  The anxiety is real.  Luckily innovative groups like Nairobi-based Ushahidi were previously involved in giving the world a glimpse of what was happening on the ground in Kenya.  As a research community, we must be aware of these various factors which can hinder our societies from providing our world with relevant solutions or finding answers which help us to lead a better life for all. 

As much as I found dramatic changes in Nairobi, I also found that there remained the same wonderful hospitality, passion and wit of the people which, in 2007, had captured not only my imagination where another world is possible, but as well cemented a place in my heart.  And it will be through these same incredible citizens who will see Kenya overcome what was in the past and strive for an optimistic future which belongs to them.