Silicon Insider: Tech and Racial Progress in Africa

It was an event so horrific that it even shocked our veteran guide.

We were casting for tiger fish from a boat on a side channel of the Okavango River in the Delta near the Namibian border. The fish weren't biting so we let our attention wander to a group of about 20 baboons of all ages foraging on the far bank.

Suddenly, the calm was shattered by an explosion of violence among the monkeys.

Apparently, a rogue male baboon -- waiting to either challenge the dominant male baboon or perhaps to join the tribe with a mate of his own -- savagely attacked one of the females.

He knocked her to the ground, pounding her into the dust -- and in the process sent the infant she was carrying tumbling down the bank into some bushes.

It was this infant who was the real target of the attack. It tried to hide in the bushes, but the male, having overpowered the mother, now scrambled down the bank in hot pursuit.

In an instant the male was upon it. As not only we, but half of the baboon tribe, looked on in horror, it grabbed the baby with both hands and ate it alive.

As the blood spurted, the shrieks of both the dying baby and the helpless mother echoed over the water -- a sound never to be forgotten.

Then, in an instant, the male baboon was gone, the other males in hot pursuit, the baby's screams dying in the distance.

Charles Sebaga, our master guide, predicted that within a few hours the fight would be forgotten, the ruthless male would find his new place in the tribe, and the mother, now returning to estrous, would take on the cannibalizer of her baby as her new mate.

It an awful way, this little natural vignette was an allegory of Africa itself. At the time, I turned to my son, Tad, and said, "That, son, is why we invented civilization."

The March to a Civilized Society

I was being facile. Too often here over the centuries, life has been treated as a zero-sum game, the spoils going to the most audacious and brutal. Some of the greatest cruelties have been perpetrated by some of the ostensibly most "civilized" partners.

It's easy to believe that the winner-takes-all rule of the jungle still governs Africa.

Certainly there is no shortage of tyrants. The "Big Man" is always willing to take over here.

The sequence has become wearily familiar: white colonial rule, independence, Marxism, coups, civil war, Beloved President for Life, blame the whites for current problems, land expropriation, economic disintegration.

Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is only the latest example -- enforcing absolute control now well into his 80s, destroying the economy of one of Southern Africa's most beautiful countries, creating a nation of starving paupers while he is feted by fellow despots around the world.

There are endless Mugabes throughout Africa -- and no shortage of unhappy poor people and teenagers with AK-47s in white Toyota trucks -- to support their rise to power.

It is so easy to give up hope for Africa. The problems seem so intractable. Yet, having been to Southern Africa three times now in the course of this decade, I find myself more optimistic than ever.

Prosperity, Technology Arrive

Much has changed here since my first visit in 2002.

For one thing, prosperity has come to the region, thanks in large part to high prices for minerals, oil and gems.

This in turn has led to building booms in places such as Windhoek and Lusaka, and in the copper cities of Northern Zambia.

The Internet and cell phone too are becoming ubiquitous. These days you can buy a cell phone call for pennies from a vendor in a reed hut on the side of a dirt road.

Thus, it is now possible for the average citizen in this region to connect to a larger world, one with other solutions to their problems.

Economic booms come and go -- and especially go -- in Africa, though. Rather, it is the obvious cultural changes taking place that give one the most hope.

The most depressing part of visiting Southern Africa a decade ago was the obvious social apartheid: blacks and whites inhabiting parallel worlds -- blacks the government, whites the economy -- and each side holding the other in contempt. Since then, something important has happened.

As one local white businessman told me, "I think everybody has come to realize that we can't make it without each other."

This trip -- to Namibia, Botswana and Zambia -- has been a revelation as to how far this social revolution has come in just a few years, and behind the headlines about AIDS, war and land grabs.

In the Kalahari, we stayed at Deception Valley Lodge, an extraordinary partnership between a young, white Botswanan and his childhood Bushmen friends.

Those friends now work at the lodge, providing unforgettable lesson walks into the bush and proudly teaching Bushmen ways and traditions.

In the Okavango, our guide, Charles Sebaga, a brilliant tracker and teacher, is busy working on the bush's version of a doctoral degree -- and ticket to the middle class -- the professional hunter's license.

Of the three Kwando camps we stayed at in the Delta -- Little Kwara, Lagoon and Lebala -- two were managed by whites, one by blacks.

In a welcome example of true colorblindness, and for one of the first times in my memory, the two races ate together at meals.

In Zambia, the Luangwa River Lodge, we stayed as the guest of a couple -- Sean VangerMaas of the United Kingdom and his wife, Mary-Ann, raised in Lusaka -- who seemed to personify the new Africa.

I saw countless other examples of a new cooperation between old antagonists. In each, I saw a small chance that maybe next time the struggle wouldn't have to go the ruthless, and that the children would never again be sacrificed.

Africa, they say, will always break your heart in the end.

Perhaps I'm being too hopeful, that it will all fall apart once more. For now, my heart is still intact and filled with optimism for Africa's future.

TABS FROM AFRICA -- Here's the latest set of sites to investigate if you are planning a trip to Africa:

Sunbird Tours -- Heidi is the best.

Luangwa River Lodge -- Elegant setting, fabulous food. Victor, a former Wildlife Ranger commander is a terrific guide. Ask him to call the crocodiles.

Kwando Safaris -- Three superb lodges in the Okavango, each different. Mel Leech at Little Kwara is a fabulous hostess. Ask for Charles Sebaga to guide you, especially if you have kids.

Deception Valley -- The Bushman walk has been one of our favorite experiences.

Silicon Insider columnist Michael Malone is on monthlong trip to Africa with his son, Tad.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michael S. Malone, once called the Boswell of Silicon Valley, is one of the nation's best-known technology writers. He has covered Silicon Valley and high-tech for more than 25 years, beginning with the San Jose Mercury News, as the nation's first daily high-tech reporter. His articles and editorials have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, the Economist and Fortune, and for two years he was a columnist for The New York Times. He was editor of Forbes ASAP, the world's largest-circulation business-tech magazine, at the height of the dot-com boom. Malone is best-known as the author or co-author of a dozen books, notably the best-selling "Virtual Corporation." Malone has also hosted three public-television interview series, and most recently co-produced the celebrated PBS miniseries on social entrepreneurs, "The New Heroes." He has been the "Silicon Insider" columnist since 2000.