Tuesday, 25 September 2012

NEWSLETTER #1 - SOCIETY OF AFRICAN EARTH SCIENTISTS













Volume 1, Issue No. 1,  February/March 2012


Welcome & Foreword by the Acting Chair of Society of African Earth Scientists, Dr Chukwunyere Kamalu
At long last, as acting chairperson, I welcome all members to the first issue of the newsletter of the Society of African Earth Scientists (SAES), which we hope will appear initially as a bi-monthly publication. Suggestions for further improvement of the newsletter as we progress will be welcome.
   Let me begin by giving SAES members details of my background, as well as what led to the formation of the Society of African Earth Scientists.
   Although I work as a finance manager, and have authored a number of books on African philosophy and culture, my post-graduate experience and education was as an engineer and earth scientist.  Originally I studied Civil Engineering at the University of Wales, after which I worked for the Nigerian federal government supervising the construction of federal roads in northern Nigeria (1981-84) after completing my national service there. After completing my masters degree in Highway Engineering at the University of Birmingham, I gained my PhD in Soil Erosion from Cranfield University in 1994, by which time I was a twice published scientist. Since then, although I have not been working in the field, my work has gradually become known and has now been cited in a few international earth science journals, as well as soil erosion university textbooks1.
   On joining Facebook, I was struck by the power of the internet to bring forums of likeminded thinkers together. Being myself an earth scientist from an engineering background, it also struck me that all of Africa’s problems of self-sufficiency were encompassed by a broad interpretation of the earth sciences to  include not only considerations such as water (groundwater), food production and climate change, but also renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydro-electricity and even geothermal energy.
    After the Facebook group had been established for a few weeks, one of the members (now a trustee), Mathada Humphrey, suggested that we establish the group as an academic society that is able to host symposiums and conferences as well as be a forum for a sharing of ideas (thanks Mathada!). The idea was popular enough among members to set me on the path to make SAES a reality.  It was obvious immediately that there exists a great necessity for this kind of scientifically guided organisation, focussed on African needs and with a broad input from African thinkers and minds.
   I was encouraged by the support I received from three members of the forum (the other trustees named below) who volunteered to assist in both trustee and executive roles to found the organisation. In addition to the vision I have shared above, other members of the board also recall what sparked their attraction to join the society as founding trustees:

 “SAES represent scientists who are working towards finding solutions to the current scientific issues facing the African continent, such as climate change. I have joined this society to contribute towards the development of our continent by investing in geosciences education as well as relevant scientific research”. Ndivhuwo Cecilia Mukhosi, SAES Trustee

“There are many initiatives, projects, NGOs and charities dedicated to 'fixing' Africa and her apparent problems. It has seemed to me that most of these will continue to fail for two reasons. 1: they cannot find lasting solutions if they do not truly understand the nature of the entity with which they are dealing. 2. If the situation is always approached from a problem/solution perspective. If an organisation sets itself the task of fixing problems then it will always fail in its ultimate goal when those 'problems' no longer exist.
   I was intrigued and excited to encounter SAES (and indeed honored when the founder invited me to become a member), because we have the opportunity to serve the needs of our continent in a more constructive and sustainable way. Immediately it struck me that the founder is focussed on meeting needs rather than fixing problems. My terminology could be considered just a matter of semantics but the distinction is subtle and powerful. The former is negative and self-limiting while the latter is positive and self-enhancing. Consider a gardener who tends a plot of land. Does he see his garden as a set of problems to be overcome? Rather he sees tasks that need to be carried out in order to meet the needs of his garden year after year.
   The other very important aspect of Dr Kamalu's work is in his use of African talent to meet African needs. SAES offers a pragmatic and dynamic way to harness the energy and intellects of thinking Africans.
   Finally, Dr Kamalu's objectives are closely related to the work of Wangari Maathai RIP, whom I greatly admired.”
Osmin Callis, SAES Trustee and Acting Company Secretary


Constitution and Bank Account
The SAES (UK) (Society of African earth Scientists – UK) was established in January 2012 with the opening of the society’s bank account at Nat West, Hendon, London.
   The organisation is now ready to host events in line with its remit and raise initial funds for its operation. The organisation is established as a society with charitable objects and powers as outlined in its constitution as:
3. OBJECTS
The objects of the Society are for the promotion of African  self-sufficiency in
<!--[ i. clean water and energy provision
<!--[ ii.  land, soil and water conservation
<!--[iii.  the monitoring and management of the effects of climatic change
by means of :

a) The exchange and sharing of knowledge, skills and ideas among African scientists on the continent and in the Diaspora
b) The completion of projects on African soil towards achieving the above objects
4. POWERS
The Society has the following powers, which may be exercised only in promoting the
Objects:
4.1 To promote the exchange and sharing of knowledge, skills and ideas among African scientists, in particular, and the general public;
4.2 To conduct conferences, seminars, lectures and workshops that improve public understanding of and raise funds for the society’s ongoing work2.

Care-taker Committee & Office
The Society currently has four trustees including an acting Chair and Company Secretary who are a care-taker committee until trustees and officials of the Society are elected at the Society’s first General Meeting, to be held within 15 months of its establishment. The trustees of the Society of African earth Scientists are: Chukwunyere Kamalu (Acting Chairperson), Osmin Callis (Acting Company Secretary), Ndivhuwo Cecilia Mukhosi,  Mathada Humphrey.   
   The registered office of the society is at Bury Street, London N9.

SAES Launch Events
The Society is to be officially launched by a series of lectures and workshops delivered by the Chair (Chukwunyere), starting with an inaugural lecture at the Africa Centre, King Street, London WC2, in spring 2012. The title of the inaugural lecture will be: “Earth and Land in African Thought and Practice”3. The details of the follow-up lectures/workshops have still to be finalised.
   The lecture, Earth and Land in African Thought and Practice, was seen as a good choice of topic for the inaugural lecture for the following reasons: i) the topic is sufficiently non-specialist to appeal to the general public, who are encouraged to attend the launch, ii) the topic will give opportunity to introduce the public to the work of the society, its aims and objectives,
The inaugural lecture topic covers the role of the Earth and Land in African society and culture from the ancient to the modern day; the role of the ancestors as the owners of the land and the living as the custodians of the land, who must pass it on to the future generations in a fit state for their continued survival. This puts into a context the great respect that African peoples traditionally have for the land and the soil, for they are custodians preserving the soil for future generations. This attitude underlies the approaches Africans have adopted in their traditional agricultural practices4, which strive to conserve soil, water and soil fertility for the benefit of their communities. Certain African societies practice: various methods of ash or compost fertilization; planting a mixture of crops so the soil has cover all year round and is protected from soil erosion from rain fall; crop cultivation on mounds and ridges to avoid water logging; minimum tillage and even avoiding the use of certain agricultural tools to avoid damage to the soil; a remarkable variety of systems of shifting cultivation, allowing land to lie fallow  to regenerate and avoiding over-exploitation of soil fertility. Traditional soil and water conservation methods have included stone lines, trash lines, furrows and pitting systems, terracing as seen to exist in the Mandara Mountains of the Cameroons or Djebel Marra in Sudan.
      The two soil and water conservation workshops will cover:-
  1. soil erosion and its role in land/soil degradation5
  2. the effects of degradation on soil fertility and climate change6
  3. measures for combating soil erosion by water
  4. the role of SAES projects7

Towards Sustainable Water Resources for African communities
The final bullet point above relates to the introduction of the practical work the society envisages undertaking on African soil. This will explore the improvement and use of groundwater resources in Africa; as groundwater is seen to be the cheapest available and most sustainable source of fresh water for African communities8.
   Addressing the lack of clean water for drinking and sanitation is the single most important factor in improving the quality of life for African communities. Africa’s water problem has an attainable solution if we consider the following rough estimate of the cost of achieving significant progress in meeting Africa’s water needs: There are approximately 500,000 villages in Africa. If each village was provided with a borehole with a solar energy powered pump at a cost of about £8,000 per borehole, this would give an estimated cost of solving Africa’s water problem of £4 billion. This is less than the wealth of some individuals9, and is therefore very much achievable. The SAES dream of water provision is that every village in Africa has access to at least one clean freshwater borehole. From there on, we will be much closer to the day when all Africans will have access to clean water as a basic right.

References

  1. In Hydrological Processes (2000), Vol 14, Issue 7, p.1289-1304; Journal of the American Water Resources Association, Vol. 35,  Issue 1, p.167-176;  Earth Science Review, Vol. 94, Issues 1-4, May 2009, p.23-38; Morgan, R.P.C, Soil Erosion & Conservation, Wiley, 2009 edition; and Owens, P.N., and A.J. Collins (eds), Soil Erosion & Sediment Redistribution in River catchments, CABI publishing, 2006; etc.
  2. The Society also has its draft memorandum and articles of association in preparation to apply for its charitable status and charity registration number once its annual income reaches the requisite level of £5,000 per year  to apply for charity status to the UK Charity Commission.
  3. The talk is based on a chapter from the book: Kamalu, C., Person Divinity and Nature, Karnak House, London, 1998.
  4. Soil and Water Conservation in Sub-Saharan Africa, IFAD, Rome, 1992
  5. Morgan, R.P.C., Soil Erosion & Conservation, Blackwell Science, 2005
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. A link on “Groundwater and Rural Water Supply in Africa”: http://www.iah.org/downloads/occpub/IAH_ruralwater.pdf
  9. In 1999 Bill Gates’ fortune temporarily surpassed $101 billion. In 2012 it is estimated at about $54 billion. Warren Buffet is estimated at about $47 billion whilst some unconfirmed reports put that of Hosni Mubarak former president of Egypt at about $50 billion.

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