The other day I interviewed my colleague Jon Spaull about his recent trip to South Africa, where he visited the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope. The telescope is still under construction but once completed, in 2028, it will enable astronomers to “monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky thousands of times faster than any system currently in existence.”
You will learn more about the project in the next SciDev podcast, or you can watch Jon’s film here.
While talking about the young researchers working at SKA, I realised that the strongest impression I got from I daresay all of my African friends and in general the African people I met, regardless social background, gender or age, is of a strong optimism.
Born and raised in a country where people know that the best is behind and the future is something from which one should protect oneself instead of embrace it, optimism always strikes me.
I drew a secret map of what people said me, the reasons why they want and believe they can make an impact in the respective countries. They look with trust at their political leaders or at the scientific progress of their nations. Sometimes they just believe that change will come from civil society. Having worked for a little while with African partners and having eagerly listened to the stories of those who travelled and lived in the continent, I came to think there is an element of truth in this positive narrative.
Of course once you detach yourself from the success stories you hear and report on, and look at solid data on poverty, governance, transparency or energy access the situation looks very different, and it makes you feel a bit of a fool.
But I think that optimism is a mandatory first step in a drive for change. That’s what’s lacking in my homecountry. People want a change, but nobody really believes it’s going to happen, or it’s even possible.
Here’s a soundbite of me and Jon that I randomly grabbed during our interview.