Ghana and eight other African countries have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for institutionalising cooperation and development of radio astronomy in Africa.
Ministers and government representatives of Ghana, Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia, who met in Accra ahead of the launch of Ghana’s Radio Astronomy Observatory on Thursday, appended their signatures to the MoU.
It also mandates countries to develop a competent community of researchers and scientists to undertake radio astronomy studies across the region.
The Fourth Ministerial Meeting, hosted by the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), served as a platform for partners of the African Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Consortium that is preparing for the implementation of Phase Two of the global SKA Project in their countries to establish a joint cooperation.
Ghana is the first partner country of the African Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network (AVN) to complete the conversion of a communications antenna into a functioning radio telescope.
The 32-metre converted telecommunications antenna, at the Intelsat Satellite Earth Station at Kutunse, would be integrated into the AVN in preparation for the second phase construction of the SKA across the African Continent.
The meeting was, therefore, to review progress against three joint flagship projects, namely; the African SKA, the African VLBI Network, and the Big Data Africa initiative, through which the African SKA was preparing itself for the implementation of SKA Phase Two.
Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, said the SKA Project was a big opportunity for Ghana and South Africa to work more closely, adding that scientists, computer scientists, astronomers and engineers were already undergoing training in South Africa.
“We in Ghana should be careful not to regard this cooperation as a one way affair. We should develop our local absorptive capacity to assimilate the skills and technologies that we are acquiring,” he added.
Ms Naledi Pandor, the South African Minister of Science and Technology, said funds were accessed from the African Renaissance Fund to support the establishment of the Kutunse Radio Observatory Project.
She said Ghana’s astronomical observatory would be the first radio telescope in Africa outside South Africa.
“This first radio telescope in Ghana is a significant milestone. Its long-term significance lies in the contribution it will make to the SKA. The telescope will, in due course, form part of the first phase of the VLBI array, which will enable it to support even greater science than it would be able to do on its own.
“The African story continues. Sites have been selected in Botswana and Kenya and Namibia, momentum is growing in Madagascar and Mauritius, and new plans are afoot in Mozambique and Zambia,” she said.
Meanwhile the Ministerial Meeting received presentations on these flagship projects, progress in implementing joint communication and funding strategies, and on a project examining their impact on human capital development in consortium member countries.
The Ministers expressed their satisfaction with developments the flagship projects and other initiatives, and recommendations from the senior officials on further work that would be done.
They agreed that they would help integrate the Big Data Africa project into the various regional industrialisation strategies.
They noted that the development of a more detailed roadmap of the process would require bilateral engagement between the relevant countries and the SKA project office taking into account decisions on the international SKA project.
The ministers congratulated Ghana on the yet to be launched Kutunse Radio Astronomy Telescope and the establishment of the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory, with support provided by the South African SKA project.
The next ministerial and senior officials’ meeting of the consortium would be held in mid-2018 in South Africa.