Title:Connectivity, Collaboration, and Culture: Challenges of African Museums on the Web
Authors:George Ombachi, Lawrence Monda, Lorna Abungu
Publication:MW99: Museums and the Web 1999

The National Museums of Kenya (NMK), established in 1910 as a repository of natural history specimens, has grown to become one of the foremost cultural and research institutions in Africa. Its offices at the Nairobi headquarters boast over twenty active research departments, ranging from Archaeology to Invertebrate Zoology to Palaeontology. It also comprises the Institute of Primate Research, traditional craft training centres, Old Town conservation offices, sixteen regional museums situated throughout the country, and hundreds of sites and monuments of historical, archaeological and/or architectural interest. There are also active Education Departments which strive to maintain an exciting curriculum of museum visits, competitions and other educational programmes which are offered to public and private schools country-wide. Yet despite these obvious achievements, and the trend towards modernisation, the NMK has until recently lagged behind in using Information Technology (IT) for developing new museum programmes. It has consistently viewed IT as a means of data management for such mundane purposes as personnel and payroll records. Nonetheless, the NMK has, against all the odds and with very limited human and financial resources, created and developed a web site , which promises to be a source of vital information for students, scientists, educators, and even potential tourists. At present, the site offers information on the regional museums, sites and monuments, research and public programme departments, activities and events. The NMK has seen the potential - and is building the capacity - to develop it further to include searchable scientific databases, collections on-line, and virtual tours. Of greater importance is the role that the NMK can play in developing a Web site that can play a major role in the promotion of national heritage - both natural and cultural. That is, of course, if it can tackle the more technical challenges of connectivity. So the question is: How do African museums tackle the IT challenges facing them as they enter the 21st century? How can we forge and foster not only North-South but also South-South relations through collaborative ventures, and through better use of the World Wide Web? How do we ensure that we are not left behind as our counterparts in the North race ahead at lighting speed?