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Prof. Berhanu Abegaz (Molla) ~ Turns the Spotlight on the best scientists

Published: 2018-02-28

In January 2018's blog post, we announced that this year's posts will be devoted to showcasing scientific achievements in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America. This month, we turn to Prof Berhanu Abegaz, a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Department of Chemistry, University of Johannesburg, and also a Member of the African Union High Panel on Emerging Technologies. In his post, Prof Berhanu mentions some of the best researchers in Africa who are examples of scientific excellence and leadership. He says, "It is somewhat risky when one attempts to select a few of the best scientists because excellence is the basis for which all of them are recognized." However, he embarks on such an almost-impossible task by highlighting three African scientists. We hope you enjoy this feature of our website

Prof. Berhanu Abegaz (Molla)

Nighisty Ghezae, IFS DirectorHaving worked at the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) for six years as the Executive Director, it was my routine duty to receive and review dossiers of many scientists for various categories of recognitions. One group of nominations was for recognition as AAS Fellows, the number of whom has now reached around 400, the majority of course from various African countries. However, there are also a small number of distinguished scientists from other parts of the world who are recognized for their expertise on Africa-based subjects. 

A second group of nominations was for recognition as AAS Affiliates, targeting early-career scientists below the age of 40. Each year the Academy recognizes as many as five Affiliates from each of the five regions of the African continent. The 25 Affiliates for 2017 were announced recently, see; https://www.aasciences.ac.ke/aas-affiliates/cohort- 3.html

A third group was nominations for the various prizes that AAS was responsible for, including the highly coveted African Union scientific awards given in the name of the pan-African first Ghanaian President HE Kwame Nkrumah. AAS also partnered with the Germany-based Lindau Foundation and was able to secure the participation of many early-career African scientists at the meeting of Nobel laureates, which is held every year in Lindau, Germany. As many as 20 brilliant young African scientists attended the June 2017 Lindau meeting, which may have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience to hear the inspiring talks of as many as 30 laureates. 

It is somewhat risky when one attempts to select and mention just a few of the best scientists because excellence is the basis for which all of them are recognized. However, for the purpose of this write-up, I would like to highlight a few about whom readers can easily understand why I made the particular choice.

Nighisty Ghezae, IFS Director

First and foremost would be Professor Malik Maaza, an Algerian-born AAS Fellow now working and living in South Africa. Recently, in the last week of January, the African Union announced his name as one of two winners of the coveted African Union Kwame Nkrumah Continental Scientific Award. Professor Maaza is a materials scientist with an incredible record of having prepared many nanomaterials with unique properties and potential applications. He holds the UNESCO chair for materials science and has trained a large number of Africans from all parts of the continent. 

Fredros Okumu

My second choice is Fredros Okumu, an AAS Affiliate. I would like to refer readers to a recent TED Talk that he gave with the title; How_I_study_the_most_dangerous_animal_on_earth_the_mosquito

Nighisty Ghezae, IFS Director

My third choice is also an Affiliate of AAS from Tanzania – Oscar Hilonga, who has made immense contributions in developing nanomaterials used to remove pollutants from drinking water (for example, metals or minerals such as copper and fluoride, biological contaminants like bacteria and viruses, and agrochemicals such as pesticides).

I am optimistic about the future of African science. It is only when we consider the small number of scientists and the relatively low level of investment to support African science that the contribution from the continent can be seen to be significant. This realization must encourage and justify more investment to increase both the number of scientists and the support necessary for them to do their important work. For example, I have consistently followed the annual Innovation Prize for Africa and I am amazed at the kinds of innovations that have been made.The 2017 winners can be found at; http://innovationprizeforafrica.org

Nighisty Ghezae, IFS Director

Thank you. Hope you enjoyed this feature and keep an eye on our next blog.                                                                                                                                                   Dr. Nighisty Ghezae, IFS Director

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