Science and technology ministers meet to discuss progress on Africa’s sensitive radio telescope projects
The country was recently represented by the Ministry of Higher Education, Training and Innovation along partnering countries at the 5th Ministerial Forum Meeting on the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) and African Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network (AVN) in Cape Town, South Africa.
The meeting which concluded this week brought together science and technology ministers and senior officials from Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.
The main aim of the SKA/AVN African Ministerial Forum is to provide political and strategic leadership on matters pertaining to the SKA and AVN projects and other relevant initiatives, including the establishment of Big Data infrastructure and capacity.
According to a joint statement released, the projects are making significant progress.
While all the member countries highlighted financial constraints as a major obstacle to the full rollout of the AVN project, they were unanimous that progress was being made, the statement read.
Partner countries particularly welcomed the positive results of the SKA Human Capital Development (HCD) programme. To date 127 students from partner countries have benefitted from the HCD initiative, out of a total of 136 from Africa as a whole. Of these, 14 have graduated with honours, 32 with master’s and 24 with doctoral degrees.
The meeting noted another initiative aimed at developing radio astronomy capacity in partner countries, namely the Development in Africa through Radio Astronomy (DARA) programme. DARA was specifically designed to support the African SKA and AVN projects and it is making valuable contributions to strengthen radio astronomy in partner countries.
Funded by South Africa and the United Kingdom (through the Newton Fund), DARA undertakes numerous projects, including running Linux and Python training for science and engineering postgraduate students at South Africa’s Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC). The courses are important for capacity building in high performance computing and data science, a key technologies to support and develop radio astronomy.
The Ministers noted the importance of the Big Data Africa project for both astronomy as well as more general preparations for the fourth industrial revolution. Given the significance of big data and cyberinfrastructure in economic development at both national and regional level, it was agreed that South Africa and Namibia would explore ways of integrating the Big Data Africa activities in Southern Africa into the SADC Industrialisation Strategy, taking into account prior work within SADC, and liaising with the other members of SADC. Kenya will explore a similar intervention in East Africa, and Ghana in West Africa. It was recommended that this work be presented to the African Union through the intervention of the Ministers.
The meeting also congratulated the team, led by South Africa, that had successfully bid for the International Astronomical Union’s 2024 General Assembly to be held in Africa for the first time. In anticipation of this event, member countries were urged to contribute to a working document titled “Astronomy 2024 – The Audacious African Vision”, which includes ambitions for human resources, infrastructure, legacy projects, operations and funding.