|Bridge Builders: African Experiences with Information & Communication (BOSTID, 1996, 304 p.)|
|Panel on planning for scientific and technological information (STI) SYSTEMS IN SUB-Saharan Africa|
|Case studies on the introduction of cd-rom to university libraries|
|The CD-ROM Service for the University of Dar es Salaam|
|CD-ROM for Health Information in Zimbabwe|
|Background Summary: The African Index Medicus (AIM) Project|
|Communications for Better Health Project in Zambia|
|Case studies on desktop publishing|
|Desktop Publishing at the University of Zimbabwe|
|Desktop Publishing at the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology|
|Environmental Publishing Network - ENVIRONET at ICIPE Science Press|
|Innovations in Desktop Publishing at the African Academy of Sciences, 1989-1992|
|Case studies on electronic networking|
|Electronic Networking for the Research Community in Ethiopia|
|Networking in West Africa|
|Background Summary: SatelLife and HealthNet|
|MUKLA: Evolution of a Homegrown Network in Uganda|
|The UNIMA Fidonet Network: Computer Networking for Communications in Malawi|
|Background Summary: A Global Computer Network for Change|
|Bringing the Internet to Zambia|
|Case studies on the collection, management, and dissemination of local information resources|
|NAPRECA and Its Role in the Dissemination of Information on Natural Products Research in Africa|
|A Socioeconomic Development Information System for Botswana|
|KEMRI's Management Information System|
|The Ghana National Scientific and Technological Information Network (GHASTINET) Project|
|Appendix A List of authors|
|Appendix B List of Acronyms and Abbreviations|
|Appendix C Glossary|
by Ermias Dagne
Ermias Dagne is one of the founders and the immediate past Executive Secretary of NAPRECA. He is an associate professor in the Chemistry Department of Addis Ababa University. He gratefully acknowledges the editorial assistance of Wendimagegn Mammo in writing this paper. Dr. Mammo is also an assistant professor in the same department.
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT OF THE PROJECT
This paper describes the background history, objectives, and main activities of the Natural Products Research Network for Eastern and Central Africa, known in short as NAPRECA. We give particular emphasis to the role of the network in improving the scientific and technological information (STI) scene in Africa.
Origin and History
The Fourteenth IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) International Symposium on the Chemistry of Natural Products was held in July 1984, in Poznan, Poland. Over one thousand participants from all over the world attended that symposium, including six Africans.' As we Africans met during the breaks and the social occasions, we realized that there were no such fore in Africa, even though there were many natural products there who could benefit from the exchange of experiences and ideas. Our meetings took on a more formal character as we discussed ways to circumvent the isolation and alienation that African researchers faced. We unanimously resolved to found a network to bring scientists engaged in natural products research in Africa closer together and to link those researchers with colleagues around the world who were involved in tackling research problems of relevance to Africa.
We felt that the task of a network should not be to build infrastructure, new centers, or new laboratories but instead to work towards strengthening national capabilities through regional and international cooperation. We called for the sharing of existing facilities and resources in the sub-region. As a first step in this direction, we agreed to concentrate on information dissemination and exchange of ideas through publications, including a biannual newsletter and other means. These discussions led to the crystallization of the network's constitution.
Before the end of the Poznan meeting, we resolved to name the network the Natural Products Research Network for Eastern and Central Africa, or NAPRENCA. Later an "N" in the acronym was dropped and the Network came to be known in short as NAPRECA. We felt that Africa was too big an area to encompass initially and, for the sake of expediency and modesty, we realistically started with a sub-regional approach. Had there been participants from other parts of Africa in that meeting, the arguments might have been different. In any case, the geographic definition for the network satisfied all those present and the consensus reached heralded the birth of NAPRECA.
I was elected Chairman and Editor of the Network's newsletter and we asked Berhanu M. Abegaz of the same department as myself at Addis Ababa University to serve as Secretary and Treasurer. The rationale for this decision was to avoid having the two officers in different countries, a situation that would have paralyzed the Network right from its inception.
Upon returning to our homes, our initial enthusiasm did not wane; on the contrary, all concerned received the idea of founding a regional network for natural products scientists with joy. In Ethiopia, B.M. Abegaz prepared the final version of the constitution and came up with invaluable suggestions and ideas on how to launch NAPRECA and initiate the newsletter. (See Box 1.)
The maiden issue of the NAPRECA Newsletter came out in September 1984, immediately after the founding meeting of a NAPRECA branch in Ethiopia. The editorial of that issue stated that:
"in order for the African scientist to be worthy of the noble name . . . the current state of isolation has to be combated and scientific fore created which will contribute to the amelioration of the present dismal state of research and academic activity."
This issue also echoed the importance of contacts and exchange of information. The editorial made a strong appeal to all natural products researchers in the region to interact with each other and to initiate programs of mutual interest. It stated, "the birth of an organization per se is not a historic event. What is more significant is whether such an organization will live up to its name." The publication and worldwide distribution of this issue was made possible by contributions from the members in Ethiopia.
In Kenya, J. Ogur, senior lecturer of chemistry at the University of Nairobi, brought together a large team of researchers and educators and founded NAPRECA-Kenya, where he emerged as chairman. This branch was formally registered by the Kenya Registrar of Societies in January 1986. Although no Tanzanian took part in the deliberations in Poznan, colleagues at the University of Dar es Salaam were swift in taking up the idea and founded a branch that was registered in October 1985. At the same time a branch was also founded in the Sudan.
Colleagues in Zimbabwe decided to merge the NAPRECA concept with an existing association with similar objectives, namely NAPRAZ (Natural Products Association of Zimbabwe). This was fraught with problems from the start. Although an understanding was reached from the outset that NAPRAZ would be like a NAPRECA branch, in reality this never worked. In December 1988, a separate NAPRECA-Z was founded. This turn of events contributed to a weakening of the branch in Zimbabwe, a problem that has not been circumvented to date.
In Ethiopia, NAPRECA became affiliated with Addis Ababa University (AAU) and the Chemistry Department served as the seat of the Coordinating Office. This meant that NAPRECA benefited from the administrative framework of the University. Funds for the NAPRECA Coordinating Office were administered by the university as a project account. Since overhead charges are waived on most grant accounts in AAU, this arrangement was greatly appreciated right from the start. The network was also able to use such university facilities as guest houses, halls, and laboratories.
In March 1987, John Kingston, a senior officer in the Division of Basic Sciences in UNESCO, came to Addis Ababa leading a mission to the Ethiopian Science and Technology Commission. That occasion provided an opportune moment to discuss cooperation between UNESCO and NAPRECA. Jack Canon, an Australian scientist, senior UNESCO advisor, and chairman of the Australian Network for the Chemistry of Biologically Active Natural Products (NCBNP), strongly supported the idea of affiliating NAPRECA to UNESCO. The NAPRECA branches in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe urged their respective UNESCO national commissions to support the motion of affiliation at the UNESCO General Assembly in November 1987. NAPRECA was formally declared a UNESCO affiliated organization, entitling it to receive direct financial support from UNESCO's regular budget.
This recognition boosted the morale of the membership and gave the young network a wider international recognition. Its meager financial resources were also increased. It was then possible to call a meeting of the NAPRECA Coordinating Board, with representatives from each of the then five member countries, namely J.A. Ogur and R.M. Munavu (Kenya); A. Taha (Sudan); H. Weenen (Tanzania); N.Z. Nyazema (Zimbabwe)' and' of course, ourselves from Ethiopia. The meeting took place in Addis Ababa in March 1988.
NAPRECA was pleased with UNESCO's decision to send the Director of the Division of Scientific Research and Higher Education in Paris and the Director of UNESCO-ROSTA in Nairobi to the March meeting. The International Foundation for Science (IFS) sent its scientific advisor as an observer. J. Ayafor (Cameroon) and J. Mungarulire (Rwanda) came as observers. The latter country joined NAPRECA a year later.2
At the First Meeting of the NAPRECA Coordinating Board, we adopted the constitution of the network, elected its officers, and decided that Ethiopia would be the seat of the Coordinating Office. I was elected Executive Secretary and B.M. Abegaz was elected Assistant Secretary-Treasurer. H. Guadey3 joined as Program Officer and ex-officio member of the Coordinating Board. Although NAPRECA had existed since 1984, this board meeting heralded the active chapter in the history of the network. Since that time, we have held eight annual meetings and the number of member countries has increased. With the joining of Rwanda, Uganda, and Madagascar in 1988, 1989, and 1990, respectively, our membership rose to eight countries.
A day after the first NAPRECA Board Meeting, a scientific session was held. As all of the Board Members and most of the observers were active researchers in the field of natural products, each made a presentation followed by discussions. This hurriedly organized scientific conference was christened the First NAPRECA Symposium on Natural Products. The high quality of the presentations and the enthusiasm with which the one-day symposium was received gave a clear signal that such events in Africa were long overdue.
In the same year, the International Program in the Chemical Sciences (IPICS), based in Upsalla, Sweden, started to offer NAPRECA annual grants, particularly in support of the Exchange of Researchers Scheme, the Summer School Programs, and the symposia and specialized workshops. The IPICS grant was kept mainly in Sweden and used for settling expenses directly from there, relying on the efficient secretariat in Uppsalla. We have on many occasions also benefited from the advice and guidance of Rune Liminga, Director of IPICS, who has vast experience in networking in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
The main aim of the network as articulated in the constitution is to "initiate, develop and promote research in the area of natural products in the Eastern and
BOX 1 The Chairman as Editor
The idea of entrusting the task of editor to the chairman of NAPRECA was judicious. As one of the main tasks of a network is information dissemination, anyone exercising the leadership of a network should take this duty to heart and ensure the continuous flow of information through publication of a newsletter and other circulars. The raison d'etre of a network depends on how well this task is handled. Consequently this was a task that could not be delegated but executed right from NAPRECA's top position.
Central African sub-region." Dissemination of information pertaining to natural products research is one of the major objectives of NAPRECA. The importance of establishing links with counterparts in other parts of the world was emphasized right from the outset, as one of the objectives of the network is to "foster and maintain links with such scientists who are actively working in specific areas of natural products that are pertinent to Africa." The sections that follow will attempt to show to what extent NAPRECA has been successful in putting these aims to practice.
PROJECT EXPERIENCE AND IMPLEMENTATION
Seven categories of activities will be described in this
section. In short, these are:
· Dissemination of information through publication of a biannual newsletter, monograph series and symposium abstracts,· Administration of a post-graduate scholarship program;· Implementation of an Exchange of Researchers Scheme;· Organization of the Natural Products Summer School;· Convening of the Natural Products Symposium once every two years,· Conducting training workshops, and· Coordination of the UNESCO's Botany 2000 program.
The NAPRECA Newsletter is published twice a year. About one thousand copies of each issue are distributed free of charge to readers in various parts of the world. Sometimes the founding of organizations by novices will lead to the launching of some form of publication - invariably designated as Volume 1, Number 1. Too often, Volume l, Number 2 never sees the light of day and the new organization or association withers to oblivion! When the first issue of the NAPRECA Newsletter came out, we were warned of such a pitfall. But, so far, we have succeeded in maintaining our publishing schedule and we have now distributed 24 issues of the newsletter.
Reactions to the maiden issue of the NAPRECA Newsletter were mostly congratulatory, although some people pointed out mistakes and offered advice. Thus Dr. M. William, Executive Secretary of IUPAC wrote:
". . . I was most interested to receive the Maiden Issue of the NAPRECA Newsletter and to learn that the Network arose from the IUPAC symposium held in Poland in July 1984. . ."
J.I. Okogun of the Chemistry Department of Ibadan University, Nigeria wrote:
". . . the Newsletter serves its purpose to inform us all on developments in the area of natural products."
We also welcomed criticisms - such as the one by the botanist Tewolde B.G. Egziabher, then President of Asmara University, who wrote:
"There were some spelling errors in the maiden issue. . . similar errors should be avoided in the future. . . I suggest that you check the spelling of every scientific name before you print. Even if you feel you know the scientific name very well, it is worth checking each name routinely every time."
The suggestions and criticisms of our readership greatly contributed to sustaining the Newsletter for 12 years. Four years ago NAPRECA began publishing a series of monographs, the first of which was a NAPRECA Year-Book, entitled Eight Years of Existence and Four Years of Intensive Activities, Z. Asfaw (Ed.), 1992.
Administration of Postgraduate Scholarship Program
A postgraduate scholarship program was born during a visit by the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, DAAD) delegation to Addis Ababa in October 1987. A conference for former DAAD fellows was taking place and on one evening during that conference, I happened to sit beside Mr. Richard Jacob, who then headed the Africa desk of DAAD in Bonn. I commented that international organizations like DAAD rarely support initiatives at local levels and that such organizations more often follow the top-down approach. I continued to narrate the story of NAPRECA and how much we would have appreciated it if some DAAD scholarships could have been administered by the network for the purpose of training the young in the natural products field. He suggested that, if we submitted a convincing proposal, his organization would offer the network five scholarships per year.
In March of 1988, the German ambassador to Ethiopia, His Excellency Dr. Kurt Stoeckle, personally brought to the Faculty of Science a letter signed by Dr. Berchem, President of DAAD, declaring the award of five scholarships to NAPRECA. Since then, NAPRECA has received a similar letter from the President of DAAD every year.
In this DAAD-NAPRECA scholarship program NAPRECA is responsible for selecting the candidates, who must enroll in a post-graduate program in a university outside of their own country. DAAD scholarships cover tuition, research costs, and subsistence allowances of the fellows in universities in the sub-region. The cost of the scholarship per student per annum varies from country to country but is within the range of six to seven thousand U.S. dollars. The first beneficiaries were two Ethiopians who, in September 1988, joined the MSc program of the University of Nairobi and three Kenyans who came to Addis Ababa to join postgraduate programs in biology and chemistry. A total of 39 scholarships have so far been awarded to selected individuals. Of these, 15 have completed their MSc studies; eight, including two PhD candidates, discontinued or were dismissed on academic grounds; and 16 are still pursuing their studies.
A follow-up conference was organized in cooperation with DAAD in November 1993. Former fellows were invited to interact with their peers and former instructors. Despite the problems, briefly dealt with in Section 5, we faced in implementing this program, we are of the opinion that the DAAD-NAPRECA fellowship program was one of the most rewarding offshoots of the network.
Implementing the Exchange of Researchers Scheme
In an early issue of the NAPRECA Newsletter, we described the problems faced by African scientists as:
"Isolation, lack of contact with each other as well as with
peers else where, absence of conducive atmosphere of research, coupled with
meager resources. . ."
We thought that an Exchange Scheme might be one of the best remedies of these ills. NAPRECA, therefore, invested considerable energy and resources in implementing this scheme, thanks in particular to the financial support of two organizations, UNESCO and IPICS. Many junior as well as senior scientists have benefited from this scheme.
Under the Exchange Scheme, a selected fellow is granted the opportunity to spend a month or two in a laboratory within the sub-region. Preference is given to candidates who are able to find funds for travel and then the research and subsistence expenses are covered by NAPRECA. So far 32 individuals have benefited from the exchange, with an average stay of one and half months in a regional laboratory. (See Box 2.)
Organizing the Natural Products Summer School
One of the regular activities of NAPRECA is the organization and implementation of Natural Products Summer Schools. Six Summer Schools were organized between 1988 and 1994. The main aim of the Summer School is to enhance the research capabilities of participants, in particular in chromatographic, spectroscopic, and bioassay techniques. Research scientists and technical assistants working for various institutions in the region have used the opportunity to improve upon their laboratory skills. Usually about a dozen participants take part in the Summer School; half of these come from outside the country where the program takes place. Each Summer School was rated highly by the participants. Particularly those researchers who had little or no exposure to modern research settings have found this program highly beneficial.
Natural Products Symposia
As the NAPRECA concept got off the ground in an IUPAC Symposium on Natural Products' it is only natural for the network to pay special attention to organizing similar conferences in Africa. So far six natural products symposia have been organized in the five member countries.
The first symposium was indeed a modest one, convened immediately after the first meeting of the Coordinating Board in March 1988. No book of abstracts came out of that event. As our Kenyan colleagues were very keen about organizing a conference, the second was held quickly thereafter in Nairobi in September l 988. Sixteen participants came from outside of Kenya to the second symposium. We published a booklet with nearly 20 brief abstracts in advance of the symposium. We included pictures of the speakers at the end of the book, a feature that has been kept in subsequent symposia booklets.
The third symposium was held in Arusha, Tanzania, in May 1989. It drew over 40 participants from outside of the host country and the local organizers were able to publish an impressive book of proceedings, with 22 full papers and nearly as many abstracts. The Arusha symposium set a high standard not only in terms of the quality of the scientific presentations but also in the excellent way in which it was organized.
In the Third Coordinating Board meeting that took place in Arusha, we agreed to organize subsequent symposia every two years. That led to the fourth symposium in Addis Ababa, in December l99l. The increased number of papers required, for the first time, the holding of parallel sessions. The Symposium Book, published prior to the conference, was of high quality with 28 papers appearing as extended abstracts. In retrospect that was indeed a good decision. The preparation of conference proceedings is a thankless job, because it is done after the event is over. Extended abstracts published in advance of the conference, make it easier to put pressure on participants to submit papers of reasonable standard. This has made the NAPRECA Symposium Extended Abstracts frequently cited sources of information.
The fifth symposium held in Antananarivo, Madagascar, in September 1993, enabled a large contingent of researchers from South Africa to participate for the first time in a NAPRECA activity. Prior to this meeting, it was not possible for scientists from South Africa to mingle with their counterparts from other African countries. Nearly a dozen well known South African scientists came to the symposium and this had an impact on the quality of the oral as well as poster presentations. It was humorous to hear a South African professor say at the beginning of his lecture that he was extremely pleased because he was "for the first time in Africa." As Madagascar was a Francophone country there were several participants who came from Francophone Africa and France, and one parallel session was dominated by papers presented in French.
The sixth symposium that took place in Kampala, Uganda, in September 1995. This symposium attracted about 80 participants who came from various countries in Africa, Europe and North America. The scientific meeting covered 12 general and 28 parallel session lectures, as well as 32 poster presentations. A book of extended abstracts was published and distributed at the opening session of the symposium. Three pre-symposium short courses on Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), Mass Spectrometry, and Organic Synthesis were held at the same venue. The courses were designed to upgrade the skills of young researchers in applying or interpreting the results of these modern techniques in their own research. A total of 27 participants coming from seven African countries participated in the three short courses.
Participants' assessments of the symposium were very positive and some were unreserved with their kind words of praise.
". . . The very successfully organized NAPRECA's sixth symposium was an event that one would wish to witness again. . ." wrote Gizachew Alemayehu, Ethiopia.
A leading natural products chemist, Joe Connolly, Glasgow, UK, commented:
". . . Congratulations for the excellently organized NAPRECA's sixth symposium and the pre-symposium short courses . . . It was great to be in Kampala with your team."
I realize how far-reaching the impact of these symposia are when a Kenyan colleague who was sitting next to me during a session in the sixth symposium pointed to. a group of scientists from Europe, and said:
"These people did not take us seriously when we started holding such conferences in Africa some years back, but now they listen to us attentively when we make scientific presentations."
Conducting Training Workshops
NAPRECA has organized four major training programs so far. The first was the IFS-NAPRECA Workshop on NMR Techniques, which took place in Addis Ababa in December 1991. NMR is one of the most useful methods in structure elucidation of substances isolated from plants. It is also one of those techniques that develops by leaps and bounds and it is therefore of paramount importance for a chemist to keep abreast of these changes.
IFS and NAPRECA held a symposium on bioassay methods in Antananarivo, Madagascar in September, 1993, as a pre-symposium program. The focus of the program was on ways to screen substances for anti-malarial activity. IFS support ensured that several participants could come from several countries in the region.
Another two month program, held from April to June 1993, was a training workshop on herbarium techniques, which was organized in cooperation with the National Herbarium in Addis Ababa. As plants are the major sources of natural products, their identification and documentation is of great importance for natural products research. This program was designed for technicians who work in herbaria of the region. It included lectures and practicals on botany and related disciplines.
The fourth in this series was a training program on glass blowing techniques which was held in Uganda in January 1995. The instructor was Mr. Wodajie Imru, senior glass blower of the Chemistry Department, Addis Ababa University. All the 12 trainees were glass blowers serving in various research and academic institutions in Uganda. This program speaks for the need to improve skills of research support staff. (See Box 3.)
Coordination of the UNESCO's Botany 2000 program
The Director General of UNESCO launched an initiative called Botany 2000, which is basically an interdisciplinary program that attempts to link three disciplines, namely botany, chemistry, and pharmacology. NAPRECA was designated to take the lead in coordinating the Africa Botany 2000 program. As part of that activity, NAPRECA organized a training program for Herbarium Technicians, supported activities in documenting rare and endangered plant species of Africa, and supported exchange programs that fall within the scope of Botany 2000.
BOX 2 Benefits of the Exchange Scheme
One of the recent participants in the Exchange of Researchers program was Ildephonse Murengezi, Chairman of NAPRECA-Rwanda. Our efforts to locate him after the tragic events in that country led us to the refugee camp in Goma on the border to Zaire. At the beginning of 1995, as soon as the Ethiopian Airlines resumed flights to Kigali, we sent him a ticket and invited him to come to Addis Ababa as an Exchange Fellow, where he stayed for six months working in a natural products laboratory [See NAPRECA Newsletter, Vol. 12, No. 1]
BOX 3 Co-funding Opportunities
Funding from one agency often opens the door for funding from another. For example, in the first training workshop, a grant from DAAD enabled us to bring a topnotch NMR specialist, Dr. S. Berger, to lead the one week intensive workshop. IFS made it possible to bring some of the leading natural products researchers of Africa, selected on the basis of their scientific output.
RESULTS, IMPACTS, AND BENEFITS OF THE PROJECT
Many research groups in Africa and indeed in many other parts of the world are engaged in the isolation, characterization, and evaluation of the biological activities of natural products occurring in plants and animals of African origin. Currently, most of the studies on natural products from African plants and animals are conducted by research groups based in Europe and North America, cooperating in some cases with groups in African universities and research institutions. Consequently, most of the scientific papers describing the output of such work appear in scholarly journals published outside of Africa. In too many cases researchers in the country where the plant material of the research originated are not fully aware of the research results.
It is important to follow the literature in the field to know more about our own resources and take measures for their sustainable use. Following progress in the field, is also of paramount importance to ensure that the county of origin shares in the benefits resulting from the use of natural products discovered from African plants and animals.
There are many international natural products chemistry journals that deal with plant constituents and their biological activities. Of these, the three with wide international coverage are: Journal of Natural Products, Planta Medica, and Phytochemistry. These journals frequently publish research results on the study of the constituents of African plants. We therefore dedicate one regular column in the NAPRECA Newsletter to list all those papers on African plants that appear in these journals. The column attracts the attention of many researchers whose libraries do not subscribe to these journals.
A compilation of the information in this column in the period 1984-1994 now forms the basis of a database. In the three journals, we found nearly 1,000 articles dealing with either the chemistry, biology, or pharmacology of plants collected from different parts of Africa. The full details of this database are now published in Monograph Series No. 8.
In the 1,000 articles various types of compound classes are reported from the African plants such as alkaloids, anthraquinones, flavonoids, and steroids. In terms of utility of the products, anti-cancer, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-malarial, antifeedant and molluscicidal activities are by far the most prominent. Over 56 papers give chemotaxonomy as a significant outcome of the studies and 29 deal with the culturally and commercially important essential oil bearing plants of Africa.
The limitation of the above mentioned database is obvious, as it is based on articles in only three international journals covering just an 1 1 year period. Nevertheless, it gives an indication on the wealth of information that is coming out in the field of natural products from Africa. The database could also serve as a starting point in literature surveys on topics of interest to phytochemists and other natural products researchers interested in investigating African plants for the benefit of the peoples of Africa and elsewhere.
The publications of NAPRECA amply demonstrate that the network has achieved some of its objectives to a satisfactory degree. These publications have turned out to be frequently cited sources of information and ideas. NAPRECA has helped many researchers break their isolation. The symposia, training workshops, and summer schools organized by NAPRECA have served as excellent fore for the exchange of ideas and information. The benefits of all of these to promote research and development in the field of natural products research in Africa is obvious.
ANALYSIS OF LESSONS LEARNED
The most serious problems facing African networks are a consequence of poor communication and lack of appreciation for promoting inter-African contacts. Travel within Africa is indeed very difficult. Slow and undependable mail systems and poor fax, telephone, and telex connections exacerbate the problem. Going from one country to another requires the use of expensive air transport and, in most instances, one also has to take into consideration stringent visa requirements. There is very little opportunity for African scholars to visit other countries in the region, and many get unpleasant surprises when the first travel to another African country. We were taken by surprise when the first DAAD-NAPRECA fellows from Kenya came to Addis Ababa and spoke of culture shock and difficulties in adjusting to their new environment.
There is also a great deal of dependence on foreign currency. Fees to universities and other institutions, hotel bills, and airport taxes have to be paid in U.S. dollars. Many African scholars are accustomed to the generous travel arrangements offered by international agencies who organize conferences in or outside of Africa. NAPRECA could afford no luxuries. For example, a Ugandan lecturer was sent to Madagascar on a two-month exchange scheme. He returned home after 10 days because he felt the allowance he was given by NAPRECA was not sufficient. On another occasion, we secured a round trip air ticket from the Commonwealth Science Council in the United Kingdom for a senior lecturer to come to the sixth NAPRECA Symposium in Uganda. He failed to show up at the conference presumably because the donor did not provide him with per diem as well. By the time we learned of his decision, it was too late to use the travel grant.
On the other hand, there were several exemplary instances where exchange fellows did everything possible to sustain themselves with the very little we could give them in the form of allowance. Mesfin Bogale, an Ethiopian exchange fellow, wrote the following after his two months research visit to the Institute Malagache de Recherches Appliquees (IMRA) in Antananarivo, Madagascar:
". . . The subsistence and housing allowance given to me was $200 per month. On this allowance I could not afford to stay even in the cheapest inns in Antananarivo. Since the guest houses at IMRA were still under construction, the only option I had was to sleep in a room near the laboratory. . . The laboratory where I stayed had no facility for bathing. I could wash my hair in the laboratory sink. But I had to wash my body on the floor using buckets of water and mop the floor at the end."
During his stay in Antananarivo, Bogale tested forty-five samples for their antimalarial activity. The samples he found active were further tested for other kinds of activities. He wrote:
"The laboratory facilities and the working conditions are very good. This research visit to IMRA enabled me to complete my thesis project. In addition it provided me with a good opportunity to learn more laboratory techniques. . ."
Our experience has shown that organizing programs in Addis Ababa was much easier. This is because NAPRECA was entitled to use the guest house, student quarters, laboratory, lecture halls, and other facilities of the Addis Ababa University. Consequently many of the Summer School and Exchange of Researchers programs took place in Addis Ababa.
Network programs thrive on a give and take basis. One is a host at one time and a guest at another. He who gives in one round receives in another, and he who responds to a request at one moment also gets a response to his call in time of need. If we set aside the problems, network activities bring to all those participating many moments of joy and satisfaction. For me the most rewarding experience is the feeling of being at home whenever I am in any one of the NAPRECA member countries.
Looking back to the formative years of the network, just as there were moments of success, there were equally many instances of frustration and setbacks. The unprecedented tragic events in Rwanda, where many of our colleagues lost their lives or were forced to flee their country, is by far the worst of these setbacks.
Despite the above problems, it is gratifying for NAPRECA, in the words of Prof. P.J.M. Ssebuwufu, Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, to have "developed into an organization which has achieved a deservedly notable prestige within and outside of Africa." Equally uplifting are the kind words of the Nobel Laureate and President of the International Organization of Chemistry for Development (IOCD), Jean-Marie Lehn, who made the following remark while announcing a travel grant for participants of the sixth Symposium, "We believe support given to NAPRECA and its programs can multiply the impact of our modest contribution considerably since NAPRECA is a truly indigenous action among natural products chemists in Africa."
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The present office bearers of NAPRECA, E. Dagne, B.M. Abegaz, and H. Guadey of Addis Ababa University have served the network for the constitutionally allowable two terms since 1988. The 8th NAPRECA Coordinating Board meeting held in September 1995 in Kampala, Uganda, elected for a four-year term Drs. M.H.H. Nkunya and M.A. Kishimba of the Chemistry Department, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, as Executive Secretary and Assistant Secretary/Treasurer, respectively. We believe, that the most important task of the new officers is to ensure the continuity of the network by not only maintaining the current tempo but also meeting new challenges and adding more dimensions to its activities while leading it into the 21st century.
Jack Canon, the Australian scientist closely associated with NAPRECA since its inception, reflected as follows on the challenges ahead:
". . . You are certainly handing on a very smoothly running organization to Tanzania and. as NAPRECA has now achieved a 'critical mass' of first class research workers I am sure that it will continue to flourish. I think that it is a reflection of the strength of NAPRECA and the goodwill existing between its members that it has been able to cope with the tragic madness which took place in Rwanda. I am sure NAPRECA will be able to help re-establish research in that country when full peace finally returns. . ."
There are also many other issues facing NAPRECA. In light of the improved email facilities in the region and possible Internet connectivity of several of the member countries in the near future, the new challenge for NAPRECA will be to tap these opportunities to advance networking among its membership and to provide them with vital information services.
For some of us' what we have achieved in the last decade is like a dream come true. I have witnessed that a handful of dedicated individuals can make an impact if they are committed to a cause. The concept of NAPRECA thrives because there are individuals who devote their time and energy for the accomplishment of the Network's ideals. We in NAPRECA have also learned the important lesson that we can make meaningful contributions to our respective nations' and to the sub-region at large, only if we pool together our meager resources for solving our common problems.
1. The Africans in attendance were: J.A. Ogur, Chemistry Department, University of Nairobi; M. Gundidza of the University of Zimbabwe, A. Taha and M. Younis from Sudan; N. Matos from Mozambique; and myself Matos was, at the time, a PhD student in Humboldt University' East Berlin. He is now the Director of the Association of African Universities which has its headquarters in Accra, Ghana.
2. It is interesting to note that colleagues in Cameroon and Ghana tried to establish a parallel West African network. Despite support from UNESCO and a founding meeting held in Ghana during the IFS and Kumasi University-sponsored scientific meeting in September 1990, the NAPRECA parallel network failed to take off.
3. Hailu Guadey was the first Ethiopian to get a University degree in chemistry, BSc (McGill University, Canada, 1950) and MSc (Howard University, U.S.A., 1959) He was assistant minister of health in the Haile Selassie regime and was retired in 1974 when that government was overthrown. He was then employed by NAPRECA as a program officer.
Finally, it is only fair to conclude this brief account by paying tribute to all colleagues and friends in the region and elsewhere in the world who have supported our efforts to make NAPRECA a successful venture. Special gratitude is also due to the donor agencies - in particular to SAREC (Swedish Agency for Research Co-operation with Developing Countries), UNESCO, DAAD, IPICS, IFS, TWAS, and IOCD who provided generous support for implementing NAPRECA's activities and programs.