The African Astronomical Society (AfAS) Science Committee has laid out a strategic plan to guide its mandate of advancing science and astronomical research in Africa, during a two-day Astronomy in Africa Science Business Meeting, hosted by the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute (ESSTI) and co-organized by AfAS, the East Africa Regional Office of Astronomy for Development (EA-ROAD), and Ethiopia’s Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MINT), from 10-11 October 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The science business meeting follows in the wake of the Astronomy in Africa Business meeting which was held at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town on 25-26 March 2019.
AfAS debuted on 14 April 2011 at the Second Middle East-Africa Regional IAU (International Astronomical Union) meeting as Africa’s professional astronomy society but became redundant shortly after its formation.
The business meeting in Cape Town, which focused on “strategy, policy, and governance issues related to the field and future of astronomy on the continent”, heralded the relaunch of AfAS with a clear mandate to advance science and astronomy in Africa.
The Science Business meeting had delegates from 10 African countries and two astronomers from the African Diaspora. The delegation comprises of representatives of astronomical institutions in Africa, research universities, partner agencies and the media.
The meeting accepted invited talks, presentations and deliberations on the Science Business Strategy of AfAS while creating a platform for collaboration and networking for delegates. The delegates also highlighted various astronomy initiatives and predominant areas of research in their home countries to bring a general understanding of the strengths of individual countries and help the committee to identify key areas of collaboration.
Dr Tefera Waluwa, Ethiopia’s former deputy prime minister, described during the meeting as the father of astronomy in East Africa, admonished the science committee not to duplicate efforts. He further advised AfAS to “speed up comprehensively and not speed and stop or speed in parts”.
Dr Waluwa tasked AfAS to collaborate with the African Union and align its objectives with African Union Space Strategy for space science and astronomy, while also partnering with other initiatives on the continent such as the African Space Leadership Congress.
“This strategy is going to be the main pillar and deserves all the attention. The organisation of this group is led by the Science Committee of AfAS. However, the outcome of this particular meeting will decide the strategy of the Society. We have an ambitious program ahead with both presentations, discussions and an outcome that should inform and hopefully convince the community,” said Prof Lerothodi Leeuw, Vice President of AfAS during his opening remark.
Presenting the opening speech, ESSTI Director-General, Dr Solomon Belay said: “Africa needs new ideas to advance in development and AfAS is playing a role by supporting African institutions to advance astronomical development across the continent.”
“The key part of a professional society is its science contribution and strategy, which is at the heart of society. It is important that the two days of discussion build the strategy and ideas that we all can come together to advance astronomy in Africa,” said Kevin Govender, Director of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Development.
The meeting successfully concluded a strategy document which details the vision, mission and objectives of the AfAS Science Committee. The strategy document is expected to be officially unveiled at the AfAS General Meeting in March 2020.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.