Opinion from Jonathan Weltman, Volunteer Project Administrator Africa2Moon, CEO Foundation for Space Development (non-profit)
This is a question I have been asked many, many times since we announced this program and one that we have not, to date, properly answered on our website because, frankly, the answer is subjective.
Does Africa have more immediate concerns?
Yes, absolutely! Ebola in West Africa, Civil uprisings, religious wars, poverty, unemployment, access to basic services, it is, admittedly, a long list.
Does this mean we shouldn’t go to the moon, or attempt other scientific objectives? In my opinion, the opposite. It means that we HAVE TO try to go to the moon and attempt other bold, audacious and memorable projects. Let me tell you why.
I was spurred into writing this post after hearing a seriously bright, well qualified and well respected young man, from a very humble and typical rural African up-bringing, remark on reading negative comments on stories about Africa2Moon:
“HOW DARE THEY”
By that he mean’t how dare anyone tell him what he is and is not allowed to aspire to. How dare anyone, who has not walked in his shoes to get where he has gotten, diminish his achievements by telling him there are more important priorities.
This needed validation, so here I am giving it!
Aid, in the form of food, medicine, doctors, peacekeepers may heal the wound of today, or at least stop the bleeding, but it won’t cure the problem once and for all.
To do that we need a long term sustainable solution. That solution is education & skills retention.
When asked this question in interviews I say that Africa has two imperatives. The now & the future.
Africa2Moon is all about the future (which makes it no less important!).
The future starts today. It must start with inspiration which, in turn, will lead to education which, then, leads to opportunity which finally results in economic empowerment of an educated population.
It must be noted here that inspiration and education are worthless, for Africa, if the opportunity and economic empowerment take place away from Africa. That’s where the skill retention comes in. Currently at least 18 million African University graduates have emigrated off the continent. 1 in 9 graduates, at the minimum, leave the continent. That is too many.
I don’t blame them though. There are just not enough exciting projects in Africa to assuage personal ambitions. Not enough “world class” work being done. Projects like the Square Kilometer Array and hopefully Africa2Moon can change that for those involved in the Space Sciences and not only retain their skills but attract some of the leading minds in their fields for collaboration and knowledge transfer.
Thus inspiring the next generation and creating a sustained chain reaction of education and empowerment until one day we stand shoulder to shoulder with our neighboring continents to the point where asking if Africa can afford to do exploratory science would be as absurd (and condescending) as asking if North America or Europe could afford to do it.
So, to encapsulate my opinion, let me quote my fathers advice when once I was young.
“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life!”