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Innovations in Desktop Publishing at the African Academy of Sciences, 1989-1992

by Dr. Alex R. Tindimubona

Alex Tindimabona is now Chairman of ASTEX - the African Science and Technology Exchange - based in Kampala, Uganda. From 1989 to 1992, he was program officer and associate editor at the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi. There, he was involved in introducing desktop publishing in support of scientific communication. At ASTEX, he continues to promote science and technology for development and is now working on the networking of African scientists. Dr. Tindimubona has a PhD in quantum chemistry and previously taught at the University of Nairobi.


This case study describes the introduction of desktop publishing (DTP) at the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), which was a pioneer in using such technology for scholarly publishing in Africa. The AAS is a continent-wide, non-governmental organization of senior scientists, science managers, and policy experts dedicated to the promotion of science and technology for development in Africa. It is the brainchild of 22 leading African scientists who met in Trieste, Italy in July 1985 at the Third World Academy of Sciences. A task force under the chairmanship of Professor Thomas R. Odhiambo of Kenya presented the constitution of the AAS within six months. In December 1985, it was ratified at a second meeting in Trieste and the Academy was born with 33 Founding Fellows. It began operation at its headquarters at the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, in June 1986.

The AAS is an honorific society that promotes excellence in science and technology by recognizing outstanding individual accomplishments through election to the membership (Fellowship) of the Academy. Admitting new Fellows at the rate of about ten per year, the membership now stands at just over 100. It has also developed a series of prizes to reward excellence, the most notable being the AAS/ Ciba-Geigy Prize for Agricultural Biosciences.

From the beginning, the AAS decided to be an active, practical organization whose members would address the daunting problems of the continent. For the AAS was formed at a time of deep crisis for Africa: the continent faced major famines, external debts, declining economies, social conflicts, and a growing questioning of the political leadership. (See Box 1.)

The AAS vowed to take the lead in reversing Africa's decline through science-led development. It decided to tackle the problems that transcend national and ideological boundaries: drought, desertification, and food deficit. Finally, its members rallied around the theme of "bridging the gap between the scientists, industrialists, and policy makers in Africa." The AAS chose a core program covering four areas:

· Mobilization and strengthening of the African scientific community;· Publication and dissemination of scientific materials,· Research, development, and public policy; and· Capacity building in science and technology.

Early on, the AAS realized that publications would be a major instrument for building the African scientific community, for making it aware of itself and its mission, and for interaction with its constituency. This constituency was very well defined: it included the scientific community itself, the policy makers, the entrepreneurs, and the general public. The publication program thus started as soon as the first staff member, Professor Peter Anyang' Nyong'o, came on board in July 1987 as Head of Programs. Using outside typesetters, he immediately started publishing Whydah, the quarterly newsletter of the AAS and working on the first book, Hope Born Out of Despair. He also helped develop the publication strategy of AAS: they would publish a newsletter, a journal, books and monographs, as well as other products. The publishing arm of the AAS was called Academy Science Publishers, or ASP.

BOX 1 External Leadership of African Science

Until the founding of the MS, the leadership for organization and management of science in Africa lay in externally-based institutions such as the United Nations family (UNESCO, UNECA, UNIDO, etc.) or in the former colonial powers, which worked through African government bureaucracies, such as the French ORSTOM; the British Commonwealth Science Council; or the United States Agency for International Development. Thus, final decisions were taken in Paris, London, or Washington, D.C. African scientists had not yet organized themselves into a community that could articulate its potential and needs, or its usefulness to society. Science was still marginalized.


The ASP initially took on desktop publishing to underpin the publication of the AAS's Discovery and Innovation (D&l), which was a quarterly, approximately 100 page per issue, peer-reviewed, multi-disciplinary journal of research and policy discourse. The feasibility study performed prior to establishing the journal involved over 80 scholars, scientists, and professional consultants from Africa, Europe, end America and unearthed many problems facing publishing in Africa. The study found that of the 70,000 or so journals published worldwide, only about 150 were from Africa. Many of these were of dubious quality, frequency, and duration. The main problems were prioritized as lack of resources, but more significantly, there were managerial problems, such as the:

· Low professional capacity in editing, typesetting, printing, marketing, and distribution; and
· Management of the intellectual processes: peer review, content-quality assurance, timeliness; and inclusion in the world's secondary (abstracting, indexing, and citation) literature.

Many African scientists were worried about publishing their best work in an "obscure journal" whose results might not be seen by their peers. This might possibly result in duplication of research or, worse, competitors might claim they got the results first. There were also doubts in some foreign quarters as to whether Africa was doing enough high-calibre science to support such an advanced journal. The leadership of the AAS, who had much experience on the African scene, insisted that the time was ripe for such a journal. All in all, the study came up with conflicting predictions that could only be tested in the field through praxis.

It is a tribute to the resilience, persistence, vision, and managerial acumen of the leadership of the AAS that the journal not only started, but has survived and has become a regular, well recognized beacon of scholarly publishing in Africa. The tribute equally goes to the donors of the journal, particularly the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science. But thirdly, and significantly, the tribute must be shared by a technological innovation - desktop publishing - which is at the base of the success of this journal and indeed of the AAS's entire program of publication and dissemination of scientific materials.

In May 1988, Professor Turner T. Isoun arrived from Nigeria to take his post as the Editor of Discovery and Innovation, plus other AAS publications. On assuming duty, he immediately took steps to ensure the acquisition of good quality manuscripts for consideration for publication in the journal. He developed and sent out announcements of the new journal, instructions to contributors, and personal invitations to contribute articles to key scientists inside and outside Africa (including all Fellows of AAS). He was rewarded with an encouraging response to his campaign. Over 100 scientists indicated a willingness to contribute articles and, by the time he produced the first issue in March 1989, he already had over 60 papers undergoing the peer review process - enough to fill the first four issues of D&I.


The feasibility study had recommended the introduction of desktop publishing for the journal. Accordingly, the AAS acquired a Macintosh IIci computer, with a laser printer and back-up dot matrix printer. It had advanced word processing (Microsoft Word) and DTP (Aldus PageMaker) software. The AAS already had three IBM-compatible personal computers with dot-matrix printers that were used mainly for word processing. A database management program (Dbase III) was used for the project on Profiles and Databank of African Scientists and Scientific Institutions. The AAS newsletter, Whydah, had been published since 1987, using outside typesetting service. Three books and other several other products of the AAS had also been published using outside services.

The new equipment was ready when the next editorial staff member joined in October 1988. Gillian Ngola had broad experience in publishing and quickly became proficient on the equipment, mainly using her familiarity with the printing terminology that had been incorporated into the DTP software (e.g., fonts and point sizes, bromides, camera-ready copy, etc.). Arriving in January 1989, as an Assistant Program Officer, I brought my experience as a physical scientist familiar with computers, science writing, and publication generally. I began to troubleshoot simple problems, conduct in-house training on computer literacy, undertake technical editing of scientific articles, and plan for expansion on the DTP path. I actively participated in the thrill and agony of putting together the first issue of D&I. When it finally came out in its purple splendor in March 1989, we celebrated!

Two major issues were identified and dealt with at that time. One was the whole area of typesetting mathematical expressions, which was extremely tedious with the conventional programs then available. It was eventually solved to some extent with the Expressionist software, a shareware program supplied by Miriam Balaban of Israel. The second was a more fundamental one, dealing with refereeing of papers through a peer review process. The system of peer review designed for D&l was extremely innovative, rigorous, and uncompromising regarding what would be accepted for publication. It was based on the principle of pure peer review as applied by the best journals of the world.

As 1989 ended, it was clear that D&I was succeeding beyond the expectations of its initiators. We had managed to bring out four issues of high quality material, every issue on time (in the month shown on the cover). We had received some 314 manuscripts and had processed enough of these to keep two issues ahead in terms of articles ready for production. Also, we had received 236 paid subscriptions.

Innovations related to computers were becoming very useful, for instance:
· some authors were submitting their articles on diskette, thus obviating error-prone re-entering of text;· we had the manuscript tracking system computerized; and· we had introduced and mastered a mathematical typesetting software (Expressionist) that improved our handling of physical science papers.

After one year of operation, we could better understand and deal with our business environment. The information technology environment within which DTP grew at the AAS was auspicious in some respects, but terrible in others, though each of these facets had to be recognized and managed by doing. Nairobi, and particularly the ICIPE campus at which the AAS was housed until 1992, was full of microcomputers, but not DTP. A good proportion of the secretaries could operate a word processor but had not been trained in the more complicated aspects of page layout or importing graphic files. Technical support was available but insufficient, especially when it came time to dealing with hardware problems.

In terms of scientific content for our publications, the supply was good, as nearly all scientific and technical disciplines were well represented in Nairobi - in professional societies, universities, libraries, government agencies, research institutions, international organizations, and NGOs. The AAS, through its project on Profiles and Databank of African Scientists and Scientific Institutions, the Fellowship of the Academy, and the Network of African Scientific Organizations (NASO), was already in touch with much expertise Africa-wide and indeed world-wide. (See Box 2.) ICIPE itself represented a multidisciplinary scientific and technological milieu. Its scientific programs and activities kept the AAS replete with new visitors, contacts, information, and advice. Nairobi was (and still is) the hub of trade, communication, and commerce for Eastern and Central Africa and attracts much equipment and trade information. Telecommunication within Nairobi and outside is easy, but not cheap. Thus the ASP Editor had no major problem originating publications ready for the printers. He could mobilize peer-review and technical editing, and consult other experts and libraries for scientific and technical publishing minutiae (e.g., the current convention for depicting vectors and matrices in print).

The printing industry in Nairobi responded well and turned out to be up to the task of printing a sophisticated publication like Discovery and Innovation reasonable prices and with acceptable timing. Although most printing had previously been taken outside (mostly to London), this was traced to the colonial legacy of Kenya and the perceived editorial shortcomings of African editors. Thus, it was actually editorial expertise that was sought. Once that editorial confidence was built - and the ASP/DTP did a lot to build it in Nairobi - there was no looking back. In other words, while the environment affected AAS, AAS did much to affect the STI environment too!

The one clear negative aspect of the STI enviromnent for the international scholarly publisher in Kenya was the prohibitively expensive international postage demanded by the government-run Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC). High prices forced the AAS to ship its publications, in bulk, to a cheaper distributor in the United Kingdom or Amsterdam. While saving us money this also led to horrible delays in fulfillment of subscriptions and orders. Telephone and fax, also managed by the KPTC, were at least four times higher than in neighboring Uganda. The other barrier in Kenya was the lack of full liberalization of foreign exchange markets (unlike Uganda) and high duty on computer equipment.

Departure of Professor Isoun

The first major challenge to the DTP program at the African Academy of Science came in early 1990 when Professor Isoun returned to Nigeria. He retained his post as non-resident Editor and the office in Nairobi was reorganized. I was appointed Associate Editor and was to assist him in ensuring the editorial quality, scientific content, and general sustainability of the journal. Specifically, I was to deal with:

· the editorial acceptance process: referee selection and manuscript traffic monitoring;· technical editing for scientific content, especially in the physical sciences; and· overall program development for AAS publications.

I did this along with my duties as Assistant Program Officer in charge of several other projects. (See Box 3.) Mrs. Ngola, in turn, took on more responsibility for managing the journal's technical editing, production, publication, and marketing. We were lucky in October 1989 to hire, as a graduate secretary, Mrs. Nancy Amulyoto, who grew to be invaluable in running the manuscript tracking system and generally running the office. She was the de facto Assistant to the Editor while Mrs. Ngola became, in essence, the Production Editor.

The Peer Review Process at the AAS

I want to provide some detailed information about the peer review system that we used at ASP. If a journal is to be taken seriously by the international scientific community, it must follow a rigorous peer review process. The system established for the peer review of Discovery and Innovation was among the first in Africa.

After preliminary assessment of a paper by the editor, we mailed copies to two or three independent referees. We first removed any information about the author - name, country of origin, and current institution - so that the reviewer would not be unduly influenced by such particulars. We looked for reviewers who were not from the same country as the authors. In order to continuously recalibrate our standards, we also chose reviewers from outside Africa. Depending on referees' comments, the editor would:

1) accept for publication;
2) send referees' comments (anonymously) back to author for revision/ response;
3) send copy to other referee(s) for further opinion; or 4) reject and return the manuscript to author.

The revised manuscript could be accepted or sent back to referees. Clearly the peer review process often resulted in extended cycles of interaction between authors and referees, mediated by the editor. Though expensive and time-consuming (given Africa's poor postal communications), we found this process extremely important in safeguarding the quality, credibility, and integrity of the journal.

Never during the first four years of publishing D&I did the AAS receive any feedback challenging the intellectual content of the journal. Indeed, potentially embarrassing submissions were caught before damaging our reputation. Some of the exchanges generated a lot of heat. We also learned that the matter of confidentiality is often a managerial formality to protect the concerned parties: active experts worth their salt can usually guess the identity of the author or at least the institution from which a given paper originated. As long as this formality is respected by all, however, the process can obviate any suspicions of bias, plagiarism, blockage, and unfair competition in the scientific community.

Another unique feature of the D&I peer review system was that it was purely voluntary. We correctly believed that if our journal was excellent, then reviewers would find it an honor to be associated with it and contribute to its success.

As 1990 ended, it was clear that D&I was well established. We had fully mastered the intricacies of originating and producing a high quality, peer reviewed journal on African soil. However, D&I was now pushing the human resources to the limit, particularly at the post-production, business end: marketing, distribution, subscription fulfillment, and so on. This became the focus of our struggle: to convince our donors to support the hiring of a marketing officer. This was finally accomplished in June 1992. With this position filled, the AAS controlled all the basic functions of DTP, and ASP became, at last, a full (but still small) DTP-based publishing house.

Other Publications

As soon as ASP proved the viability of DTP for scholarly publishing in Africa with the release of D&I in March 1989, the managers of AAS were emboldened to widen the DTP scope to include books, monographs, and reports. The editorial office already had four manuscripts on hand, coming out of other AAS programs or through outside collaboration. These quickly became pioneer DTP books under the ASP imprint. Their titles were:

· Science for Development in Africa;· Soil and Water Management in Africa;· Directory of Scholarly Journals Published in Africa; and · Regional Integration in Africa: an Unfinished Agenda.

By November 1989, we had produced the African Academy of Sciences' Strategic Plan 1989-1992, much acclaimed for its design excellence and quality production in green, cream and gold, which became a major selling point among the AAS's donors and clientele. Production of equally well-designed Annual Reports became a tradition at this time.

In 1992, another milestone was passed when Whydah, the AAS newsletter, was finally produced inhouse by DTP. This was a major achievement, because it was accomplished through internal capacity building, without expanding the staff. Our Administrative Secretary, Miss Margaret Anaminyi, taught herself DTP basically by watching and doing over the years, until she challenged us to let her do it all. Her pioneering effort allowed us to produce the newsletter more efficiently. She also spread the skills and confidence she gained to the other staff members and other AAS projects. This caused a quantum leap in the efficiency of our secretariat and the quality of our products as we became almost 100 percent computer-literate.

As 1992 ended, problems remained at the post-production, business end but these were being addressed by the new marketing officer. The biggest problem threatening the DTP operation was that many of its pioneering staff began to leave for a variety of reasons. After Professor Isoun left in mid-1990, we managed to cover for his absence through sheer energy and hard work. But when, at the end of 1991, Professor Nyong'o left to join the multiparty politics of Kenya, the pressure became unbearable. At the same time, I was making plans to return home to Uganda and decided to stay only one more year as Head of Programs and Associate Editor. Under this pressure, we still managed to produce all of our serials on time every time in 1992, but the book publishing slowed down.

In the meantime, it appears that the impetus for dynamic use of DTP has been picked up by the ICIPE Science Press, which is covered by Ms. Agnes Katama's case study (included in this volume). Her study shows the development of the market-oriented, potentially sustainable strategy that we were planning at the AAS but had not yet begun to develop and implement.

BOX 2 Complementary Projects

The peer review process reinforced the AAS's desire to develop a deep and broad knowledge of the African scientific community. This is why the Profiles and Databank of African Scientists and Scientific Institutions project was so useful. Often the D&l Editor came to my office and said: "Alex, could you look in your database and find me an expert to review this paper - preferably not from the following country(s)." Most of the time l would succeed, and also take the opportunity to add the authors to the database, if they qualified.

BOX 3 Profiles of African Scientists

I was asked to publish Profiles of African Scientists, from my computerized databank. l was initially appalled because l thought it a retrogressive step to go from electronic to paper-based data. Later, it dawned on me that most of the world was still "paperbound" and could not access our data anyway. But computers would still help, via DTP. There followed one of my most nightmarish exercises-converting my IBM Dbase files into Microsoft Word files ready for DTP on a Macintosh! We published the book, complete with photographs, in March 1990. It had about 400 entries. The book was an immediate hit, and generated a lot of interest and heated discus" signs, particularly by those who had been left out. The photos were included because, apparently, there were some people who still doubted that there actually are African scientists. This book put those doubts to rest. The second edition, revised and expanded, was published in March 1991, with over 600 entries.


By the end of 1992, DTP was well established at the AAS. The result was that all programs could confidently produce camera-ready copy: books, journals, newsletters, brochures, and reports on time and to consistently high levels of quality. Our flagship publication, D&I, had broken all records by coming out regularly, on time, for four volumes ( 16 issues).

Its high quality content, favorably reviewed in Nature, helped us break through a thick barrier into the international science citation system. It was abstracted and indexed in the secondary literature by Chemical Abstracts and Current Contents It was also carried in the catalogue of the African Book Collective in London, signalling its entry into worldwide promotion, marketing, and distribution. The number of papers submitted had risen to 780. Discovery and Innovation was quickly establishing itself as the principal forum for scholarly and policy discourse in Africa.

ASP books and periodicals were displayed at international conferences and book fairs worldwide, and could be found in many libraries. Our books were hitting the market at a prolific rate, with 11 titles in our catalogue, plus thousands of brochures, pamphlets, flyers, catalogs, indexes, end promotional materials. Academy Science Publishers became one of the fastest growing scholarly publishing houses on the African scene. A new AAS staff member confessed that he had been misled before joining, by the number of publications reaching his institution, into thinking that AAS was a large organization with a hundred employees. He found about ten. We worked hard' and we worked smart, mostly through DTP. (See Box 4.)

The AAS is pinning great hopes on ASP to become the main pillar of its quest for self-reliance and reduced donor dependence.

Impacts of DTP rapidly spread throughout the organization. The dot-matrix printer was abandoned suddenly for the laser when our Director started refusing to sign non-laser printed letters. Suddenly, everyone wanted a Macintosh with laser printer. Timeliness, quality, and financial prudence became AAS management goals. DTP could ensure delivery of the required results most of the time.

AAS's pioneering spirit created a mini freelance industry in DTP, mainly composed of expatriates who were unemployed because of Kenya's strict employment regulations. They set up DTP facilities in their houses and serviced the high pressure demands of the AAS, through their spouses and friends. Miriam Isoun worked in this way to publish Science for Development in Africa, taking a great weight off Gill Ngola's shoulders; she also stepped in for an issue or two of D&I when Mrs. Ngola was away. Laura Tindimubona designed almost all the books, the Strategic Plan, and Annual Reports. She used DTP to publish Inventions of African Scientists, which was printed by ICIPE Science Press in 1992. These entrepreneurs were soon joined by others, including ICIPE secretaries and graduate students at the University of Nairobi. And so DTP spread in Nairobi.

Here are some other examples of the impact of the desktop publishing program at the AAS:

· One industrialist saw a new food formulation reported in an AAS publication and started a new production line in his factory;· An article from D&I was repackaged for the popular media and got carried by several news agencies in Africa;· I won the 1992 UNESCO Swraj Paul award for work on development of a science culture in Africa, an article first published as a guest editorial in D&Iin 1990,· My analysis of the characteristics of the African scientific community, published in the Profiles book, led to a better understanding of the same and helped in design of new AAS programs, such as the Education of Girls and Women; and· Experts who received papers to referee for D&I ended up submitting papers or getting involved in other AAS projects.

Finally, I believe that D&I and other AAS publications went a long way in building the African scientific community, and perhaps, ultimately, an African science. Any journal is an expression of the scientific community that surrounds it. The famous "internationally recognized" journals that the African scientists were clamoring to publish in, e.g., Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), are actually quite parochial in their core, because they have to be relevant to the needs and aspirations of American chemistry. For these reasons, African papers reporting on African problems would not be easily deemed relevant to such journals. D&l, if it could overcome the problems it faced, could be such a mouthpiece, and yet be internationally recognized. This program in turn has had a great impact in making the AAS a highly visible authoritative leader of science in Africa.

BOX 4 Impact of ASP

A colleague visited a foreign organization based in Nairobi with the mandate of collecting and disseminating African literature. He asked them whether they had any books on science in Africa. They said, "Sure." So he said: "Can l see some so as to acquire them for the MS library?" They brought out the books they had, and Io and behold, they were ail from the AAS.


The main lesson we learned is that DTP should not be confused with simply typesetting or design on a computer - which is what most laymen think. It should be understood as publishing, first and foremost: this means managing the entire process or chain by which raw manuscripts are transformed and delivered to the consumer in the most appropriate fashion. This entails managing the origination, printing, marketing, and distribution - and ideally doing all of this profitably and in a self-sustaining way. The computer can play a role anywhere along this chain.

Seen in this way, DTP as most people see it, is only a small part of the entire process. In our time, the AAS certainly mastered the origination process and we depended heavily on the mature printing industry of Nairobi, but we had yet to come to grips with the post-production or business end. There is still lots of room for innovation and capacity building in these areas in Africa. Otherwise, why do we still have so few reliable, sustainable scholarly journals in Africa? The key aspect we mastered was the technology of DTP - at a time when few others had much experience with its application.

Another key to our rapid expansion in this period is traceable not only to the internal training of secretaries but to the more fundamental trick of strategic recruitment of a cadre of several young university-trained graduate secretaries. They had the basic knowledge, skills, and aptitude to scale the heights demanded by the high standards set by the AAS in all its work. Tribute must be paid to this cadre for many of the achievements of DTP at ASP. Most of them have since grown professionally to even higher levels and many are training their other colleagues.

Marketing and distribution of scholarly materials in Africa is still tough, and more training and capacity building is needed in this area. But the imminent creation of an African market, since South Africa became free, evidenced by more free movement and the vibrant Book Fairs at Nairobi and Harare, may all improve matters in the near future.

In scholarly publishing, it pays to have a good, marketable product to work on. The AAS itself, its mission of excellence, its Fellows, and programs could be sold to a good extent, inside and, more particularly, outside Africa. We had no problem getting materials to work on. But spotting and working on these took interest, vision, talent, and devotion.


This report has highlighted the experiences of an emerging scientific organization whose dynamism and leadership was spearheaded by DTP. In the period 1989-1992, we initiated and firmly established DTP at the African Academy of Sciences through a series of creative innovations. The AAS can now embark on the post-publication activities such as promotion, marketing, and distribution. The results today (1995) give cause for looking at the future with confidence.

At the end of the reported period, ASP was also looking to consolidate and expand its scholarly publishing business. Consolidation means putting in place all the basic parts (people, funds, and equipment) of the publication chain, so as to make it market-driven and self-sustaining. This process has continued. The ASP can expand into tertiary level textbooks and other scholarly materials, while maintaining the journal and newsletter. This door remains open for ASP, since the market is still underserved. Other prospects lay in strengthening the role of the Fellows and their ownership of the Academy.

The commitment of the donors, especially the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science, was crucial at a time when we had to build up the credibility to attract a revenue base from subscriptions and advertisements. They had the vision and patience to nurture, over a long period, what was clearly a promising idea, while keeping the pressure high for quick maturity and independence. The challenge was how to support the basic parts of the process so that donor withdrawal would not lead to collapse and thus wasted effort. Clearly, more quantitative and diverse funding and promotion are needed to sustain scholarly publishing and we look to any innovations in this regard. The challenge to Africa's supporters remains.