Inspired by the continent’s needs, Next Einstein Forum Ambassadors are bringing science to local communities.
On 30 September 2019, on the Island of Santo Antao in the Ribeira Grande — nicknamed “Island of the Mountains” because of its mountainous folds — a group of 60 farmers gathered for the launch of the first mobile phone app that will enable them access micro-credit in a climatically patterned region. This happened at the third edition of Next Einstein Forum’s (NEF) Africa Science Week. This year Africa Science Week will be held in over 35 countries.
The farmers in Santo Antao watched intently as Caixa Economica unveiled the app. Edging closer, they saw figures spew out of a mobile phone. Standing beside the bipping phone, they stared mesmerized at the words and numbers that translated what they stood to gain.
Cabo Verdean subsistence cultivators of yam, sugar cane and cassava had long been worrying that inadequate finances would increase their woes, in an area where only 10% of the land area is suitable for crop production. No farmer in Santo Antao is unaffected by climate change and drought. Few had drip irrigation. Tech booms were a faraway notion, and talk of getting financial support by just pressing a few buttons. The farmers at Africa Science Week are excited by Caixa mobile. When the island goes dry again, they can at least mobilize funds — using the mobile app — and set up and revegetate parching soil.
As Africa Science Week progressed in Cabo Verde, the first lady Ligia Fonseca attended a dinner to honor Cabo Verdean women in science.
In Lesotho, three days later, Africa Science Week kicked off with a “science awareness walk” around Maseru, involving mostly children aged 14 years and below, who constitute 33% of people in the mountainous kingdom. “We want to encourage students that it is their role as young Basotho scientists to take their country to a better level,” said NEF Ambassador for Lesotho, Palesa Phooko.
Africa Science Week is also a call to greater public sector engagement. Although the National Science and Technology Policy for 2006–2011 envisioned raising government funding of research and development (R&D) to 1% of the annual national budget, Lesotho’s basic R&D indicators depict a neglected sub-sector with the lowest GERD/GDP ratio (0.01% in 2011) of any SADC country, according to UNESCO.
Building on the gains of Africa Science Week 2018, students who were awarded during the National Science Fair held earlier this year competed in the finals of Science and Tech Competition at Africa Science Week 2019. The idea is to harness Lesotho’s best students in science and technology, at the image of schoolgirl Lerato Mokuku who developed a social media app that assists people to voice out their complaints. “With this project I competed at the National Science Fair and won Project of the Year 2019,” Mokuku said at the NEF Africa Science Week in Maseru, adding that through technology, she has learnt that everything is possible.
Africa Science Week then headed to Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria. At Trechville, Abidjan,in partnership with Open Space Federation, Africa Science Week started with a workshop on introduction to space. The workshop focused on developing and producing new tools for open space infrastructure, in a collaborative, open and responsible way. “The aim is to create an environment,” said NEF Ambassador to Cote d’Ivoire, Ghislain Dessieh, “that will enable anyone to initiate creative projects in spatial infrastructure.”
The hope of Dessieh is that these workshops will create spatial data for digital entrepreneurs who aim to transform Cote d’Ivoire. During the past few years, many young Ivorian entrepreneurs in the Diaspora have flown back to Abidjan. The result is a generation of innovators whose homegrown ideas could, aided by spatial data infrastructure, improve the lives of their fellow Ivorians.
In Abuja, Nigeria, the campus of Nile University came alive with thousands of students who had gathered there through the week for hackathons, coding competitions, science fun day, women in science activities, roundtables, science-for-entrepreneurs event and motivational speeches from scientists. “The greatest challenge to the success and effectiveness of the student or researcher in Nigeria is the lack of personal leadership as manifested in the scarcity of guidance motivation and mentoring,” Professor Ezezika Obidimma, NEF Fellow for Nigeria, says in his keynote address at the opening ceremony. “I believe that personal leadership begins with accepting responsibility for where you stand and what you do. Personal leadership transcends the circumstances and situations in which we find ourselves, and it is a way of interacting with the world from the inside out,” Ezezika adds.
Nigeria’s students under 14 years account for more than 40 percent of its citizens. Nigeria’s marketplace amounts to a new frontier. Its largely untapped labor force presents an appealing prospect for tech-assembly plants. Facebook, Google, MEST have opened tech hubs in Nigeria. In September 2019, CNN reported that a 9-year-old Nigerian, Basil Okpala, had built more than 30 video games, thanks to science outreach. Africa Science Week was put in place to give children, like Basil, access to emerging technologies like robotics and virtual reality.
In Zambia, on October 14, Stephen Manchisi, and NEF Fellow, Dr. Eucharia Nwaichi (joining from Nigeria), took to Power Breakfast Show on ZNBC in Kitwe, Zambia, to explain how science affects the Zambian citizens.
Africa Science Week hopes to impact the lives of over 10 million children, many of whom are girls, who otherwise would not learn about robotics and coding, and on how to create solutions using newly acquired skills.
“Last year, we had Africa Science Week in 34 countries and this year we’re having it in 38 countries to show the link between science and development in our countries using engaging and fun activities. Activities include science expos and caravans, coding workshops, hackathons, robotics competitions, Science and Cocktails for the business community, innovative academic conferences, celebrating women in STEM events, movie nights and industry visits. We are grateful to all the organizations that support our vision to make science and technology a first choice career,” said Nathalie Munyampenda, Managing Director of Next Einstein Forum.
Africa Science Week will continue until December 2019 in Burkina Faso, Mali, Uganda, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau, Togo, Rwanda, Congo Brazzaville, Chad, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, Malawi, Guinea Conakry, Senegal, Tanzania, Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan and Tunisia.
By Next Einstein Forum/Kevin Eze.