U.S. Policy in West Africa

On Wednesday 3/27/2019, at the invitation of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, in partnership with the Bureau of Public Affairs, I participated in the Bureau’s stakeholder conference call discussion on U.S. Policy in West Africa.

The call was hosted by an experienced career foreign service officer, who provided a readout on current issues and developments in West Africa and on ways the United States government can work with its partners to counter violent extremism, advance peace and security, promote good governance, and spur mutually beneficial trade and investment. 

The host highlighted some of the key US goals for Africa, including making private capital available for investment and ongoing programs, such as: the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA); Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC); BUILD Act; and YALI. 

Map of Africa with country flags
Photo: Wiki commons
During the question and answer session, participants chatted about how to engage the diaspora in implementing US policies in Africa, factors that have contributed to the rapid economic growth of Africa including economic reform programs and the growth of mobile technology, remittances, increasing exports to Africa and the energy reform in the Niger delta region.

Vivian Kobusingye Birchall

Outer Space with Astrophysicist Prof. Datuk Mazlan Othman

Vivian Kobusingye
Birchall walking toward
one of the submillimeter array Antennas

The eight radio telescopes of the Smithsonian Submillimeter Array
Photo: Reno
Historically, people have studied space, using the cycles of the moon for religious and agricultural purposes, and the positions of the stars and constellations for navigation.  In the last century, these interests led to space exploration.
Replica of Sputnik
Photo: NASA

The Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite into orbit on October 4, 1957.  The first American satellite, Explorer 1, followed on January 31, 1958. The first human to orbit Earth was Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union, on April 12, 1961.  John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth on February 20, 1962, and on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon.  In the years since, thousands more satellites representing over 80 countries, and citizens of 37 countries, have been launched into space.

Africa’s first spaceport, the San Marco Equatorial Range, opened in 1964 near Malindi, Kenya, as a partnership between NASA and the University of Rome.  In 1970, the first satellite specifically for X-ray astronomy, Uhuru, was launched from Kenya. 
San Marco Equatorial Range- Malindi, Kenya
Photo: Wiki commons

The site no longer launches satellites, but still tracks them. African countries from Morocco and Algeria to Ghana, Kenya and Mauritius now use satellites for scientific research, environmental and land-use monitoring, radio and television broadcasts, and internet.

Today, we live in a world where space technology is used in our day to day lives, and almost taken for granted. Our aircraft, ships, cars and even smartphones know where they are at all times.  We have constant views of Earth’s weather and storms. And live television or radio broadcasts from anywhere in the world can be received worldwide, even by people who live “off the grid.”

Prof. Datuk Mazlan Othman

At the International level, the United Nations has an office for Outer Space Affairs which implements the decisions of the United Nations General Assembly and of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, and maintains a database of satellites registered by the nations which launch them.

In observance of International Women’s day, my guest, via Skype is Professor Mazlan Othman, former Director of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. Prior to taking that office, she was the founding Director General for Malaysia’s National Space Agency, Angkasa. She is currently the  Director International Science Council- Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

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Professor Othman was the first woman to earn a physics Ph.D. from the University of Otago in New Zealand, and the first physics Ph.D. in Malaysia.  Working in a field that was previously dominated by men, she led the way for more women to follow.

We chatted about her experience working in the space industry for the past 29 years; people’s misconception that space is secretive and elitist; the positives and negatives for society, from the use of space; thoughts on establishment of a Space Force and the United Nations guidelines for the increased use of space

Vivian Kobusingye Birchall with Japanese
Astronaut Koichi Wakata