European, Africa to partner in radio astronomy

Posted on | maart 16, 2012 | No Comments

The European Parliament has called for greater collaboration with Africa in the field of radio astronomy, following its adoption of Written Declaration 45 on science capacity building in Africa.

The declaration seeks to promote this through closer European-African partnerships in radio astronomy, as this is an area where Africa holds advantages that are not available in Europe and where there is considerable scope for further growth.

“This means that radio astronomy in Africa has enormous potential for growth and offers opportunities to European researchers and industry that they will not find in Europe” explained Fiona Hall, a member of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee.

“The importance of science for socio-economic development in Africa has already been recognised in the Millennium Development Goals. European involvement in African radio astronomy represents a possible driver of socio-economic change” added Miguel Angel Martínez Martínez, Vice-president of the EP and a member of the Committee on Development.

A Written Declaration is a text of a maximum of 200 words on a matter falling within the European Union’s sphere of activities. A group of up to five MEPs can submit a written declaration by presenting a text to be signed by their colleagues. If the declaration is signed by a majority of the MEPs, it is forwarded to the President, who announces it in plenary. At the end of the part-session, the declaration is forwarded to the institutions named in the text, together with the names of the signatories.

Following its adoption by the European Parliament, Written Declaration 45/2011 will now be forwarded to the European Commission, the Council of the European Union and the parliaments of the Member States.

Judith Sargentini, a Vice-Chair for Delegation for relations with South Africa, stated that “In adopting this Written Declaration, Europe’s elected representatives have sent a strong message to their fellow policymakers about the future of European cooperation with Africa. They have recognised that radio astronomy has a bright future in Africa and that Europe can play a valuable role in it. High level science in Africa changes our perception of the continent. This is possible in Africa, and only in Africa.”

Attention will now turn to how Europe can put this message to action. Written Declaration 45/2011 specifically highlights the potential role of Horizon 2020 and the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI). Many MEPs who have signed the Written Declaration are sympathetic to the inclusion of new chapters in these programmes which will be relevant to radio astronomy partnerships.

Horizon 2020 is the name given to the EU’s primary instrument for funding scientific research and development between 2014 and 2020. The European Commission proposals for Horizon 2020 were published, in November 2011. This marked the beginning of a negotiation process that will last into 2013.

“Following the adoption of the Written Declaration, a potential addition to Horizon 2020 could emphasise the role of capacity building with a particular focus on astronomy” added Teresa Riera Madurell, MEP and a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy. This would draw on elements of the adopted Written Declaration with a view to establishing collaboration with Africa as a programme theme.

The Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) is the EU’s main instrument for providing development assistance through the general EU budget. It operates under a separate legislative instrument from Horizon 2020. “Following the adoption of WD 45/2011, MEPs are now well positioned to propose a chapter for the DCI introducing science as a driver for implementing the instrument’s objectives” explained Filip Kaczmarek, a member of Committee on Development.

Europe’s population density and sky coverage are not suitable to host the most innovative observatories. Africa, on the other hand, offers coverage of the astronomically “rich” southern sky, low levels of radio frequency interference, and very little light pollution.

African continent already hosts some of the world’s most exciting astronomy facilities, including the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), the Gamma Ray telescope HESS in Namibia and the Astronomy Development Office of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Now South Africa is building one of the world’s largest radio telescope arrays, MeerKAT. A group of nine African countries (South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Mauritius, Madagascar, Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and Mozambique) is also a candidate site to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s biggest radio telescope that will allow scientists to address many of the fundamental, unanswered questions about the universe we live in.

Such large scale research projects are important for Africa as they attract youth towards scientific studies, boost human capital development and contribute to socioeconomic development. New employment opportunities and development of basic services and infrastructures also effectively contrast the brain drain that costs Africa billions of dollars each year.

AUTHOR: Henry Neondo
URL: http://
E-MAIL: neondohenry [at]


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