By Bob Kihara
We are in the age of information, awareness and discovery. An epoch endowed with so much dissemination of knowledge than at any other time in the modern history of humankind.
Africa, according to discoveries by archeologists, is where the first man and woman came into being. Where presumably, the first words of communication were spoken; where fire and stone tools were first conceived and produced.
A huge part of where humanity first appeared is largely confirmed to be in parts of Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia in the eastern part of Africa. Africa has witnessed progress in the world from stone tools to the internet and spaceships. It has a long story to tell and will be there alongside others when humanity communicates with and visits the stars. Or even as some anticipate, when the first people from the stars come calling. Africa is a land of big dreams.
Today in Africa and its diaspora, we have many enlightened youth and older people with lots of curiosity, vitality and energy. They are people eager to connect to the ancient past as much as to a prosperous future.
Whereas the continent and its inhabitants may be short of resources dedicated to space exploration and its offshoot in industry, they are not falling short in their expectations. A good number of African countries too have set up nascent space agencies.
The Nexus Nairobi in January of this year focusing on exploring the target of travel by humanity to the stars in 100 years time, was an eye-opener. This event witnessed a well-knit, relatively good and racially-diverse turnout. In attendance were people of Kenyan/African descent and a good mix of racial diversity from various continents, nations and races – all interested and brought together to discuss matters space. The bet is that within a 100 years time, we should expect future participants in such events to include more space travellers. People who will have been to the outer fringes of the solar system and probably to the stars. At another level, it may not be far-fetched to expect a future encounter with space travellers from the stars and their worlds at similar events.
During the Nexus Nairobi event, we were inspired as we listened to Dr Mae Jemison, the first woman of colour to venture into space as much as by Orbital Assembly CEO, Rhonda Stevenson’s perspective and recount of the business of space and its opportunities.
The ‘business of space’, is aptly termed. The word ‘space’ connotates openness, freedom, opportunity and choice. Space is vast and limitless and we have hardly scratched the surface in its exploration. For all the satellites in space and probes sent into deep space, it remains largely virgin territory. However, most likely, facilitating construction of space-based habitats and spacecraft as well as conducting experiments in the weightlessness of space, will continue to have a ripple effect. The latter moreso when knowledge gained in the business of space travel, exploration and habitation is disseminated for public use. The past few decades exemplify the power of investing in space. The discovery of the depletion of the protective Ozone layer in the atmosphere was helped a great deal by satellite technology. Its recovery too has been documented by advanced space-technology.
In this world, leading all the way to the stars, there are enough planets, possibly stars, that if each one of us on earth wanted a planet, there would be one for each of us. And only the need for each other’s companionship, procreation, company and interaction would dissuade us from living alone or just with family in these planets. That is if such planets could sustain life.
And therein is a lesson to Africa and the world: The vastness of space is an opportunity to explore and reap benefits by interacting with others and bringing people of diverse origins to pursue common goals. Space should not be a haven for individual greed, but rather a collective opportunity with input from all the world’s diversity. If this world is big enough for us all, how much more the vastness of space, the opportunities of the sun, the moon, the stars and planets? Africa needs to participate as much as it can in the exploration of space so that it can benefit in the shared dividend of progress. Whereas Africa is yet to reap immensely from its diversity of people and resources, space is an area of great hope. Africa needs to invest heavily in the sphere of space-focused knowledge acquisition. This should be right from early childhood to university level. Since Africa currently lacks the resources to invest in huge capital-outlay projects such as spaceships, it should make do in the next logical step: the process of the multiplication of knowledge within its people for space exploration and good business.
As the Mae Jemison-led 100 Year Starship (100YSS – https://www.100yss.org) anticipates human travel beyond the solar system in 100 years to come, Africa cannot affort to be left behind. It must invest resources to prepare for tomorrow today. We in Africa are right where we ought to be. Our voices may not be loud today, but they are being heard and will surely rise tomorrow.
Like other actors we are ready to reap the benefits of space, with dedication, hard work, knowledge and interaction with people with whom we share common aspirations.
At an individual level, my hope is that within our lives or a relatively short time, we will manage to make contact with intelligent life outside earth. That does not invalidate the benefits of the myriad transitory steps that the space exploration industry at government and non-governmental level is taking on earth. It is only that we are all entitled to our dreams.
What is of consequence is how ready we are to reap from the growing goldmine of knowledge linked to space exploration. Our aim in the greatness of the vast diversity of African identity, is to ensure that at each stage of progress in space exploration we stake a claim in our right to be heard and to benefit.
The aforementioned is not because those of the largely marginalised are in Africa, but for the fact that Africa’s youth bulge is the world’s best opportunity to invest in. They need knowledge to prosper. And in so doing the world prospers because a well-educated and space-aware Africa is good for all.
Not all is gloom for Africa. It and its diaspora have a huge pool already of many intelligent people who are part of ongoing efforts to conquer space.
Even as emphasis is on ‘Africa and the Dreams for Space’, it is good to note however, that Afica is a hugely diverse continent with hundreds of languages within countries, and more across the continent. These languages and their identity are not a burden, but rather an opportunity. For within them and their fables, we cannot discount a history of knowledge carried by word of mouth about our place of existence within the system of stars. This diversity instead of being our bane, should be our boon. It is our richness.
Closer home from Kenya, the story of a Kenyan Astrophysicist and Atomic Physicist, Dr Immanuel Gitamo, and his experience in the US Army, exemplifies that though our circumstances may be disadvantaged today, they will not be so tomorrow. And neither will they hinder our achievements. Two years ago, the US Army published his inspiring story on their website. Since the publication of the story, Dr Gitamo has attained a PhD in Atomic Physics on top of his earlier PhD in Astrophysics. Though he may have moved on since, his is a story worth reading and reflecting on.
About the Author
Bob Kihara is a Kenyan poet, writer, communicator, space enthusiast and environmentalist. He has more than three decades long experience in journalism and media relations at national and international level. He has worked professionally as a journalist for a Kenyan newspaper – The East African Standard – from 1989 to 1996 and the United Nations as a Communication Officer (1996 to 2000 and 2002 to 2012). He also worked as a Press Officer at the Switzerland-based headquarters of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) from 2000 to 2001.
In his poetry, Bob Kihara is inspired by the desire to foster relations between people of different cultures, opinions and beliefs. He believes poetry provides an avenue to conquer, discuss and bridge even the most difficult of issues and differences. On matters space, Bob considers efforts to conquer near and deep space through exploration and habitation an exciting engagement and hallmark of the modern age. Space exploration, he believes, is an activity that should benefit and unite people of all races and continents including mother Africa.
Bob Kihara also has great interest in noble leadership and social justice as well as a desire to spearhead changes to improve humanity. In his career, he has travelled to countries in Asia, Europe and Africa and to the United States, including United Kingdom, China, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Tanzania, Dubai, Germany, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Italy, Eritrea, Egypt and Somalia.
Bob Kihara is a graduate of Kenyatta University in Kenya (1989, Bachelor of Education specialising in Literature and English) and the University of Nairobi School of Journalism (1993-Post Graduate Diploma in Mass Communication). In his studies at the University Nairobi in Journalism, he was sponsored to a scholarship from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation of Germany. He also has a Diploma from the International Institute of Journalism in Berlin, Germany (1994).
Bob Kihara has also had a leadership role in Journalism organizations serving in the past as chairman of the Media Development Association, a Kenyan media organization, as well as Vice-Chairman, (Africa), of the Commonwealth Environmental Journalists Association (CEJA). In 1995, he won the Global Media Award for Best Reporting Effort in Population and Health Reporting. The award entailed a three-week tour of China/Hong Kong and was awarded by the Population Institute of the United States. Courtesy of this award, he covered the Beijing Conference on Women. Now a UN-retiree, besides his interests in poetry, the environment and nature, he enjoys reading and listening to music as well as having a keen interest in sports and keeping up with current affairs as well as any news touching on Space exploration. When not in urban areas, and being an environmentalist, Bob who refers to, and considers himself, ‘Just a Poet’, spends his time retreating to nature in the countryside, engaging in writing poetry as well as overseeing his other favourite pastime of tree-planting and other agricultural activities on a farm.
(c) Copyright Bob Kihara, 2023, All Rights Reserved. Published with permission by Above Space