Science and Space Exploration Essential For Africa’s Economic Growth

I present below a new paper by the China Africa Research Institute (CARI) and remarks by Marie Korsaga, an astrophysicist from Burkina Faso. The common theme binding these two presentations is the importance of space technology and science education for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Not discussed by the two authors is the essential understanding that scientific discovery is the true source of economic wealth, contrary to the foolish views that Africa’s wealth is measured by the quantities of mineral resources found underground. The mind with its innate ability to hypothesize, to discover new physical principles, if imperfectly, is the underlying wellspring of progress for humankind. African nations expanding their involvement in space exploration are making an invaluable contribution to their future. Africa’s education of its large and growing youth population in science should be a source of hope, antithetical to Thomas Malthus’ evil over-population claptrap  I will be posting an article on this in the near future. 

 

May 28, 2020

Click to access PB+45+-+Klinger+-+China+Africa+Space+Satellites.pdf

 

Marie Korsaga is the first female astrophysicist in West Africa.

Dr. MARIE KORSAGA* I am an astrophysicist and originally from Burkina Faso. My research focuses on the distribution of dark matter, and visible matter in galaxies. In simple terms, it must be said that visible matter, that is to say, ordinary matter made up of protons, neutrons, electrons, everything that is observable with our devices, represents only about 5% of the universe — the rest is invisible matter, distribute as follows: 26% dark matter and 68% dark energy.

Dark matter, with its gravitational force is used to explain the fact that galaxies remain close to each other, while dark energy causes the universe to expand faster over time. So we cannot speak of understanding the universe if we only know about 5% of its constituents. So, to understand our universe, that is to say, to be able to account for its formation and evolution, it is essential to understand what dark matter and dark energy are.

Dark matter, as its name suggests, is something that you cannot see with even the most sophisticated telescopes. So far, no dark matter particles have ever been detected, nevertheless, we feel its presence thanks to its impact on gravity. The purpose of my research is to study how dark matter is distributed inside galaxies in order to better understand the formation and evolution of our universe, and therefore, the origin of life on Earth.

Beyond my research, I am interested in the development side of astronomy in Africa. For this, I work at the Office of Astronomy for Development on a project which consists in using astronomy as a factor of development almost everywhere in the world, but especially in the developing countries, by supporting projects related to education, educational tourism and so on.

Speaking of education, it is important to remember that according to the African Union, Africa has the youngest population in the world, with more than 40% of its young people under the age of 15, which will produce a demographic explosion in the next 10 years. This population growth has disadvantages, but also advantages. The downside is that if measures are not taken, such as access to quality education for boys and girls, especially in science, these young people, instead of becoming a source of development for the continent, risk, rather to be a source of socio-economic political instability and conflict, which will further plunge the continent into misery.

However, the advantage of this population growth is that through a well-developed education system, this demographic growth, if accompanied by strong measures both on the side of public policies and the private sector, will be a great source of sustainable development, at the economic and political level of the continent. For this, it is very important to make significant investments in the field of education, with a focus on innovation, science and technology.

It should be noted that today, African graduates mainly graduate from the literary and human sciences fields. STEM students — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — represent only 25% of the workforce on average, according to the World Bank. In addition, women are underrepresented in these areas. Take my case: I am the first woman to obtain a doctorate in astrophysics in Burkina, and even in West Africa. It may sound flattering, but it reveals a rather disturbing diagnosis, despite being a light of hope. Indeed, even if the region has a dozen doctorates in the field, there are almost no women among them.

Unfortunately, this shows that we are still a long way from achieving gender parity in science, and there is still much to do. This requires a change in mentalities and the accessibility of science to women, especially among the underprivileged. It is not unknown that a career in astrophysics requires a course in physics, which is not obvious for women in our societies where the majority of people think that the scientific fields are dedicated to men, and that women must go to the literary streams. This has the effect of discouraging women from opting for long studies, especially in the scientific fields, and even if they opt for them, they tend to give up at the first obstacles, due to the lack of encouragement.

Today, I can say that I have broken this barrier, at my level, and I would like to take advantage of the privilege to inspire and encourage as many young girls as I can, to opt for it.

It is true that today there are efforts being made by several governments to break these stereotypes with, for example, the NEF, the Next Einstein Forum in Rwanda, which is a platform for popularizing science, and which offers opportunities for students through scholarships of the network of women in science, called OWSD, the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World, which gives opportunities to girls and women in STEM fields.

However, there is still a lot to do, because the representation of women in science is far from being reached. Beyond research, I intend to contribute to the training of young people in science in Burkina Faso, and in Africa in general, by giving courses at universities, and also supervising masters and PhD students. I also plan to take action to popularize science education in general, and astrophysics in particular in countries where access to science is limited. This will serve to motivate young girls and boys, especially young girls, to take up scientific studies. There are also other future actions that I plan to undertake, in collaboration with other researchers, namely the establishment of scientific schools in Africa, particularly dedicated to women; the organization of workshops to enable female scientists to speak about their inspiring work, and cultivate self-confidence. The creation of an astronomy club for children, etc.

In addition to being fascinating as a science, astronomy can also be used as a development tool through, for example, education and tourism. The International Astronomical Union understands this and is making a lot of effort to address this development component in developing countries, and working to achieve a Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations.

The typical example, in Sub-Saharan Africa is the case of South Africa, where the installation of telescopes in localities has not only facilitated the popularization of science and the creation of jobs for young people, but also has boosted the economy, and the development of infrastructure in these localities.

The current context in which we, notably the COVID-19 pandemic, reminds us of how important science must occupy our lives and our education system. This importance must convince the African authorities that it is more than necessary to devote a large part of national budgets to the support and the promotion of studies and of scientific research, because investment in human capital remains a secure means for the growth of a country. Above all, we must understand that to get our continent out of underdevelopment, we will have to review our way of executing these programs, focusing on education, training in science, technology, and innovation, especially space science, could not only increase our human potential, which is a source of sustainable development, but also enable the management of our natural resources and thus impact the economy in the continent.

Africa has an immense amount of natural resources, essential to the development of industry. It is necessary to arrive at a point where these resources are exploited, first for its development, by women and men trained on the continent and with compatible techniques.

Thank you for offering me the opportunity to share my thoughts on the necessity of education in science in Africa.

*Unedited remarks delivered to an international online conference organized by the Schiller Institute, April 25-26, 2020

Read: West Africa’s First Female Astrophysicist

Our Humanity is Enriched by the Splendor of a Young African Scientific Mind

Marie Korsaga is the first female astrophysicist in West Africa.
Marie Korsaga is the first female astrophysicist in West Africa.

This is a wonderful, beautiful interview about West Africa’s first female astrophysicist, Marie Korsaga, from Burkina Faso. This young woman breaks all the stereotypes. Much of our western culture does not appreciate science. Science, discoveries by the human mind, the power of hypothesis, is the driver of civilization’s growth. Science, not money, is the underlying source  of economic value. Science demonstrates, and celebrates our uniquely human powers, which no other living creature possesses, or could ever posses. We are truly in the image of the Creator when we are exercising the higher scientific powers of our creative mind. I strongly believe that the world would be better off if we had more of youth becoming scientists (and engineers). 

Excerpted questions and answers:

Where does your passion for astrophysics stem from?

From an early age, I have always been interested in the phenomena of the universe, such as the appearance of life on earth and shooting stars. I also enjoyed watching documentary films on astronomy, especially on the Apollo missions. But at the time, I never imagined that I would become an astrophysicist, because astronomy was an unknown domain in Burkina Faso. Besides, I had never met — let alone talked to — an astronomer in real life before my doing my degree.

Growing up, I intended to become a civil engineer because I also like construction. When I did my degree, astronomy had just been integrated as an optional subject in physics in Burkina Faso, and I seized this opportunity. My interest in scientific subjects allowed me to excel more easily in the subject and to pursue my postgraduate studies in astrophysics.

In a continent where there is a lack of water, electricity and even food, does opting for astrophysics ignore the fundamental problems facing the region?

Since astronomy is a science that requires a vast field of knowledge, it enables skills to be developed at the local level. For example, if you take the telescope construction project in South Africa, which is one of the biggest projects in astronomy, it was established by engineers, computer scientists, technicians. So, in addition to strict astronomy, skills are developed that can be used effectively in other sectors.

An astrophysicist is someone who is almost a complete all-rounder in science — someone who has skills in physics, engineering, programming. All this is what makes people describe astronomy as the mother of all sciences. As well as being fascinating as a science, astronomy can be used as a development tool through, for example, education and tourism. The International Astronomical Union understands this and is trying hard to address the development component in developing countries, working to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The typical example in Africa is the case of South Africa where the installation of telescopes has not only popularised science and created jobs for young people, but also boosted the local economy and infrastructure. Burkina Faso could well draw inspiration from these success stories and position itself as a centre of excellence in West Africa.

Read: West Africa’s First Female Astrophysicist

AU Chairman, and African Leaders Congratulate China’s “Dark Side” of the Moon Landing

China is Making History with Moon Landing

January 8, 2019

Senegalese President Macky Sall congratulated China for the success of its Chang’e-4 mission to deploy a lunar rover on the far side of the Moon, when he met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Jan. 6. Senegal, which is currently co-chair of the Forum of China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). This was the last stop in Wang’s four-nation tour of Africa that began in Ethiopia.

According to Xinhua, Sall said that “this major technological breakthrough has shown that China is taking the lead in the field of technological innovation…. China’s African friends are proud of its achievement.” He added that they hope to strengthen their cooperation with China in scientific and technological innovation.

African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat had said much the same thing, when he met with Wang on Jan. 4 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the AU has its headquarters. Expressing his congratulations on the successful landing of the Chang’e-4 lunar probe, Faki told Wang, “for humans, the Moon is out of reach, but with its super-scientific capabilities, China has successfully achieved this landing event, making history.” He, too, said that Africa, as a friend of China, is happy about its success, and hopes that African countries will strengthen cooperation with China in science and technological innovation.

Xinhua reported that Wang, in responding to Sall, said that China’s achievements are also achievements of developing countries, “stressing that developing countries have the right and ability to achieve rapid development in the field of scientific and technological innovation.”

Between those two stops, Wang visited The Gambia and Burkina Faso, two countries which had only established relations with China in 2016 and 2018. Cooperation through the Belt and Road Initiative was on the agenda in each stop, as was China’s commitment to helping bring peace to Africa, which is fighting off terrorism. Wang told AU Commission Chair Faki, and Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and Foreign Minister Alpha Barry, in particular, that China will “soon” provide its $45 million commitment for the anti-terror force of the Group of 5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger), plus additional support for equipment as well as equipment for the fight against terrorism. One Burkina Faso newspaper called Wang’s pledge “a breath of fresh air,” because while the G5 Sahel counter-force is backed by the United Nations Security Council, international funding has been way below commitments.

Traditionally China’s foreign minister makes the first overseas trip of each year to Africa.

{China Daily} Reflects on Chang’e-4 Mission

In an article headlined “Exploring Outer Space for Benefit of Mankind,” the semi-official {China Daily} takes stock of the significance of the ongoing Chang’e-4 mission.

“The successful landing of China’s Chang’e 4 probe on the far side of the Moon on Jan. 3 marks a significant step forward in the exploration of outer space and paves the way for future space missions…. Both the country and its people have a good reason to take pride in this pioneering achievement, which contributes to the efforts to learn our homes planet’s satellite, the Solar System and the universe beyond…. Following the Chang’e 4 mission, China is expected to quicken its steps in exploring outer space.

“In recent years, each significant achievement made by China’s space industry has drawn global attention. Although its space industry is comparatively young, China’s commitment to the exploration of outer space has always been crystal clear and consistent. It is committed to the principle of using outer space for peaceful purposes, and opposes the militarization of or an arms race in outer space. Its door is open to international cooperation in space exploration….

China’s commitment to international cooperation demonstrates its unwavering belief that outer space is a common home for all humanity and that its space
dream is part of the dream of all humankind.”

East-West Railroad Would Transform African Continent

This is an interesting and useful article. I have stressed for decades the urgent need to construct both an East-West and a South-North Railroad. A high-speed transport grid that Africa should have completed decades ago, is essential for the well-being and economic growth of Africa. Such a transportation network, integrated with several hundreds megawatts of electrical power, would create an infrastructure platform that would be transformative; producing the conditions for African nations to finally eliminate hunger and disease. These projects are possible now with the expansion China’s New Silk Road, initiated by President Xi Jinping, which has changed the strategic geometry of the world. For example. At the February Abuja conference to ‘Save Lake Chad’ at which I participated, the Head of States endorsed the mega Transaqua project; an inter-basin water transfer proposal to recharge Lake Chad. The Transaqua concept had been in circulation for over thirty years, but with no progress until ChinaPower become involved.  As I advised the participants at this conference: now is the time for Africans to think big!   

Can China Realize Africa’s Dream of an East-West Transport Link?

The Jamestown Foundation-Publication: China Brief Volume: 18 Issue: 6

Map of a proposed trans-Africa highway network, ca. 2003 (Credit: Wikipedia Commons)

African development hinges on a maddening paradox: its greatest asset—the sheer size and diversity of its landscape—is also the greatest barrier to its development. Landlocked countries are cut off from ports, and the difficulty of moving goods from country to country weighs down intra-continental trade (only 15% of African trade is within Africa. (African Development Bank, 2017) African consumers bear the brunt of these difficulties. [1]. Costs are driven up by a host of factors: tariffs, border delays, corruption. But the biggest challenge is that no streamlined transport route exists between West and East Africa – only a decaying and underdeveloped road and rail system which pushes up costs and drags down efficiency.

Several ambitious schemes have been proposed to link Africa’s east and west coasts, some of which are closer to full realization than others. Most notable in this respect is a plan to expand the existing Trans-African Highway 5 (TAH5) into a true cross-continental road and rail link, the early stages of which China has helped bring to fruition where Western consortiums failed. Likewise, Chinese investment in African infrastructure through Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) may help create expanded sub-regional linkages, particularly in East Africa, that could help facilitate the emergence of an eventual, true East-West link in the long term. However, in the short-to-mid-term, the obstacles to a truly robust set of East-West transport links are formidable, and it is unlikely that China’s involvement will be a panacea.

Read entire article: Can China Realize Africa’s Dream of an East-West Transport Link?