Building African Partnerships in Astronomical Research

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					         Building African Partnerships in Astronomical Research
                                                           P.N. Okeke

     National Space Research & Development Agency (NASRDA), Obasanjo Space Centre, P.M.B. 437, Airport Road-Abuja, Nigeria

Abstract. Nigeria has signed Memoranda of Understanding with two observatories in South Africa to carry out astronomical
research. The cooperation between the South AfricanAstronomical Observatory in Cape Town and the Centre for Basic Space
Science (CBSS), Nigeria in optical astronomy started two years ago. Details of the cooperation will be discussed in this paper.
Also a month ago CBSS signed an agreement with Harteebesthoek Radio Observatory for collaboration in radio astronomical
research. Details of the cooperation will also be presented in this paper. Tremendous assistance already received from
observatories in South Africa over the past ten years which has brought the level of astronomical research in Nigeria to its
present state will also be mentioned. We also attempt in this paper to sensitise other African countries to join hands with South
Africa in raising the level of astronomical research on the African continent. The formation of an Astronomical Society of Africa
will assist in the realisation of this dream.

Sommaire. A des fins de recherche en astronomie, le Nigéria a signé une série de memorandum d’entente avec deux
observatoires en Afrique du sud. La coopération entre l’Observatoire Astronomique Sud Africain (SAAO) et le Centre de
Recherche en Sciences Fondamentales au Nigeria (CBSS) a débuté il y a deux ans. Il y a deux mois de cela un accord a été
signé avec l’Observatoire radio-astronomique de Harteebesthoek à des fins de recherche en radioastronomie. Des détails
relatifs à ces coopérations sont présentés dans cet article. Il y est aussi mentionné le soutien considérable fourni par les
observatoires sud africains. Soutien ayant permis à la recherche astronomique au Nigéria d’atteindre son niveau actuel. Nous
tentons également dans cet article, de sensibiliser d’autres pays africains sur la nécessité de rejoindre l’Afrique du Sud dans
l’effort d’élever le niveau de la recherche en astronomie sur le continent africain. La mise sur pied d’une Société Africaine
d’Astronomie contribuerait à la matérialisation de ce rêve.

                        Introduction                                               Efforts by Other Countries
                                                                                   in Astronomical Research

E    xperience world-wide has shown that astronomy instru-
     mentation and research is extremely hi-tech and requires
the services of expert engineers in electronics, mechanics,        W      e are yet to make an accurate inventory of African
                                                                          countries that have serious astronomical programmes
computer science and optics. This is because very sensitive,       and the exchange of information at this conference to
extremely high-precision and resolution equipment and              determine the level of astronomy in various countries is
complex computer programmes are required for the detection         therefore desirable. Since 1996, Nigeria, through the efforts
and analysis of very faint distant astronomical objects, in        of Okeke, Nicholson, Stobie and Martinez have initiated
the radio, optical and gamma-ray windows. Past evidence in         colloboration in radio and optical astronomy with the
advanced countries has therefore shown that astronomical           South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) and the
research is a technology-driver. An idea of the true picture       Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory (HartRAO).
involved can be obtained, for example, by visiting and             The resultant joint publications arising from these efforts can
assessing the work being carried out at the Southern African       be found for example in Stobie et al 19962, Urama et al 20003,
Large Telescope (SALT) in Sutherland or the 26-metre radio         and Chukwude et al 20031. In addition, between 1996–2002,
telescope at the Hartebeesthoek Radio Observatory near             two PhD’s have graduated in observational radio astronomy
Johannesburg. Also, the distribution of telescopes world-wide      using the facilities at HartRAO.
indicates a very high density in the most advanced countries, in
sharp contrast to the situation on the African continent. South    With the establishment of the National Space Research and
Africa is the only country in Africa with functional frontline     Development Agency of Nigeria, new collaborative efforts
telescopes. Dr Abiodun, Prof Boroffice and other speakers          were initiated in 2005. Memoranda of Understanding were
at this conference also observed that astronomy is a very          signed with both the SAAO and HartRAO. As a result,
important ongoing programme in Africa, but regretted that          two MSc students were supervised by Peter Martinez using
only South Africa has been able to fund programmes involving       facilities at the SAAO and Sutherland in 2005, while capacity
the acquisition of state-of-the-art astronomical instruments.      building programmes are being planned for the future. A
These speakers emphasised that for Africa to prepare for           new initiative aimed at the construction of two 15-m radio
the the digital and space age, the continent must participate      telescopes for Nigeria, in collaboration with HartRAO and the
in fundamental frontline research, particularly in astronomy,      IST Company in Pretoria have recently been entered into. The
because the aim of the African Leadership Conference is to         project is to start early in 2007.
make Africa globally competitive in these areas.
We therefore strongly recommend in this paper that all African     In the area of theoretical astronomy, our astronomers have
countries should collaborate with South Africa, which already      fared very well and have been published in reputable journals.
has made very substantial progress in astronomical research,       In addition, we have produced several PhD’s in the area of
in order to develop solid astronomy programmes in Africa.          high energy astrophysics and cosmology.

AFRICAN SKIES/CIEUX AFRICAINS, No. 12, October 2008                                                                            35
In 1990, Egypt had an optical telescope and was collaborating                             Role of Government
with SAAO. Unfortunately this programme appears to
have been suspended; however, we sincerely hope that it be
resuscitated.                                                        S  cientists cannot make progress with inadequate support,
                                                                        both morally and financially, from their respective govern-
                                                                     ments. We therefore appeal to all African governments to
We also note that Zambia has a well-defined astronomy                encourage fundamental space research and fund it adequately.
programme and is currently collaborating with South Africa.
This effort should be encouraged.                                                            Summary and
We are not exactly sure of programmes in astronomical
research by other African countries, but we are appealing to
all to join in this important effort of developing a globally
competitive astronomy programme in Africa.
                                                                     I  nstrumentation and research in astronomy is a technology
                                                                        driver and a powerful tool for the development of human
                                                                     intellect and expertise. It is therefore crucial that for African
                                                                     countries to be globally competitive in fundamental space
Nigeria, a member of the International Astronomical Union            research, African governments should invest in this endeavour.
(IAU) has recently formed an Astronomical Society, organised         We therefore appeal to the African Union to offer adequate
a committee for the International Astronomical Year (IAY)            financial support to collaborative research in astronomy and
and the International Heliophysical Year (IHY). In addition,         basic space science in Africa. We also recommend that South
Nigeria now has a well-defined programme in astronomy                Africa should take the lead in the formation of an African
recognised and funded by the National Space Research &               Astronomical Society.
Development Agency (NASRDA).
We are expecting other African countries to make a moderate
beginning, as stated above. I am happy that Kevin Govender           1.   Chukwude, A.F., Ubachukwu, A.A. and Okeke, P.N. Periodi-
of South Africa has already started compiling a list of contact           cities in rotation and DM of PSR B1557–50. Astronomy &
astronomy personnel in Africa. I commend his effort in this               Astrophysics 399, 231–235, 2003.
very important exercise.                                             2.   Stobie, R.S., Okeke, P.N., Buckley, D.A.H. and O’Donoghue, D.
                                                                          EUE J1429–38, an enclipsing Polar. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc.
                         Proposals                                        L127–L132, 1996.
                                                                     3.   Urama, J.O. and Okeke, P.N. Vela-Size Glitch Rates in Youthful

O    ne way of bringing astronomers in Africa together
     to discuss the way forward is through the formation
of an African Astronomical Society. I call on South
                                                                          Pulsars. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 310, 313–316, 2000.

Africa to headsuch an initiative. We hope that soon after
the compilation of a comprehensive inventory of contact
persons in astronomy, an inaugural meeting of an African
Astronomical Society could be organised to take place in
South Africa or Nigeria.

36                                                                AFRICAN SKIES/CIEUX AFRICAINS, No. 12, October 2008