Timbuktu Manuscripts now Available Online

Manuscripts a Tombouctou (Mali) montrant de l'astronomie et mathematique
Manuscripts a Tombouctou (Mali) montrant de l’astronomie et mathematique

I am happy to announce that the Timbuktu manuscripts are now available online. Can you imagine that? Treasures of our ancestors, writings, judgments, mathematical concepts, architectural findings, from those great scribes of ancient times. Up to 40,000 pages will now be available online, covering wide topics from biology to music to religion. 

Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu
Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu

With the Islamic attacks on Mali, Timbuktu has been under occupation since 2012 (Tensions Escalating in Mali). As you all know Timbuktu was a great center of knowledge in search for many centuries starting at least in the 12th century. It was visited by people from around the world, in search of knowledge. There were over 700,000 manuscripts at the great Sankore University in Timbuktu, and many more at other public and private libraries including the  Ahmed Baba InstituteAl-Wangari Library, and others (Lost Libraries of Timbuktu, Timbuktu under Attacks: Arise to save African Treasures). Many families smuggled the manuscripts to safety from Timbuktu to the capital of Bamako. The manuscripts contain centuries of African knowledge and scholarship on topics ranging from mathematics to astrological charts, biology, geography, laws, etc. They were written on various materials ranging from ancient paper, goat, sheep and even fish skins. Some were written in verse, poetic meter, while others in narrative styles using dialogues, stories of kings, scribes, noblemen, fables, anecdotes. They were renowned in the world for their physical beauty and outstanding wisdom.

Timbuktu_Abdel Kader Haidara
Dr Abdel Kader Haidara talking about the manuscripts of Timbuktu

In 2014, Dr Abdel Kader Haidara known for his work on the protection and preservation of the Timbuktu manuscripts and who smuggled over 350,000 manuscripts out of the city away from the jihadists, called on Google and invited the company to visit Mali and see the renowned manuscripts and join in the digitization of these treasures. Thus the collection Mali Magic was born as a collaboration between Google, local, and international partners. It took several years of combined efforts from Mali’s traditional leaders, historians, and digital archaeologists to digitize these ancient manuscripts, some dating back to the 11th century

Enjoy this article on the BBC website, and do not forget to visit the amazing work Mali Magic. The Library of Congress has also placed some manuscripts online. 

Manuscript of Timbuktu (Google Arts and Culture)

Ethiopian Tale : The Dog, the Goat, and the Donkey


Once there was a dog, a goat and a donkey who wanted to travel to another country. So they got on the bus. The dog had ten birr (the main unit of currency in Ethiopia). The donkey had five birr, but the goat had no money.

The bus ticket cost five birr. But when the dog gave ten birr to the conductor, he didn’t get any change. Because the goat had no money, she tried to hide herself in the bus. But the donkey paid his five birr. When the bus arrived at its destination they all got off.

Une Chevre / A Goat

The dog always runs after the bus shouting, “Give me my five birr! My five birr!” The goat runs away from the bus, saying, “The conductor will ask me for my money.” But the donkey doesn’t move. He’s already paid his five birr and he feels quite safe and happy.

This tale was narrated by Abdul Amin Ahmed in Ethiopian Folktales

Diébédo F. Kéré : First African to Win Prestigious Architecture Prize

Burkina Faso - Diebedo Kere_1
Diébédo Francis Kéré (Source: Azuremagazine.com)

Diébédo Francis Kéré, an architect from Burkina Faso, has just won the prestigious Pritzker prize which some call the Nobel prize of Architecture. With this, Kéré is the first African to ever win such a prestigious award. He has held professorships at the Harvard Graduate School of DesignYale School of Architecture and the Swiss Accademia di Architettura di Mendrisio. In 2017 he accepted the professorship for “Architectural Design and Participation” at TU München in Germany where he has been living since 1985.

Burkina Faso - Diebedo Kere_4
Opera Village in Burkina Faso – Diébédo Francis Kéré’s work (Source: arquitecturaviva.com)

A lot of Kéré’s work is focused on the African continent: parliament buildings in Burkina Faso and Benin, schools and health center in Burkina Faso, and the National Park of Mali. He has also worked on projects in Germany, the United States, and Great Britain among which is the Serpentine Pavilion in London. Light is at the center of his designs because growing up in Burkina Faso, sometimes in the classroom, it was very hot from the weather (Burkina Faso has few rains due to the proximity to the Sahel) and from so many children all bunched together, but there was not much light inside; plenty sunlight outside, no light and too hot inside. Growing up Kéré thought that he could improve the designs and make the life of children in his village and beyond better.

Kéré Architecture is currently working on a new parliamentary building inspired by the palaver tree. It is, he told NPR, a West African symbol of consensus building, and he hopes the building will reflect a commitment both to tradition and democratic process. “Literally speaking, it is a tree under which people come together to make decisions, to celebrate,”…

Burkina Faso - Diebedo Kere_Interior of the Serpentine Pavilion_KereArchitecture_PhotobyIwanBaan
Interior of the Serpentine Pavilion in London – Diébédo Francis Kéré (photo by Iwan Baan – Kerearchitecture.com)

He told the Pritzker prize that, “I grew up in a community where there was no kindergarten, but where community was your family. Everyone took care of you and the entire village was your playground. My days were filled with securing food and water, but also simply being together, talking together, building houses together. I remember the room where my grandmother would sit and tell stories with a little light, while we would huddle close to each other and her voice inside the room enclosed us, summoning us to come closer and form a safe place. This was my first sense of architecture.

The Pritzker Prize website, the LA Times, BBC, and NPR all had really good articles on him. Take the time to read and enjoy!

Revisiting the Mpemba Effect … in Reverse

A while back, I told you about the Mpemba effect, a physics effect demonstrated by a Tanzanian high school student in 1963, Erasto Mpemba, whereby hot water freezes faster than cold water. This is a ‘modern’ (after the 1960s) physics law made in Africa, by an African high schooler, and named after an African (history is full of cases of ‘intellectual’ misnaming i.e. naming the work of an African or others after a European). 

Flag of Tanzania

More recently, scientists John Bechhoefer at Simon Fraser University in Canada, and colleagues, have experimentally demonstrated the Mpemba effect in reverse, also called inverse Mpemba effect, where they observed that under specific conditions a cold particle will heat up faster than a warmer counterpart. The team used optical tweezers to create a tilted double-well potential that confined a colloidal particle, and then measured the particle’s response as a function of its initial temperature. The new measurements indicate the inverse Mpemba effect is much weaker than the conventional, forward effect. The work also experimentally corroborates some of the predicted mechanisms behind both the forward and the inverse effects. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in January. Excerpts below are from Physics Today; check out the full article which also goes into detail about Erasto Mpemba, and explains the effect in depth. Enjoy!


Map of Tanzania

In 1963, a 13-year-old Tanzanian student named Erasto Mpemba and his secondary school classmates were tasked with making ice cream. There was limited room in the freezers, and he found himself falling behind other students. His classmates were boiling milk for the treat, then letting the mixture cool before placing it in the freezer. To stay on track, Mpemba put his hot concoction straight into the freezer. Checking on the dessert some time later, he found it perfectly frozen, while his classmates’ remained liquid.

The idea of water freezing faster when it starts at a higher temperature was christened the Mpemba effect after he published the finding in 1969 with physicist Denis Osborne. …

Ice cream
Ice cream

… a decade ago, computational chemists simulated water molecules and observed the Mpemba effect despite the absence of the supposedly necessary mechanisms. Recently, researchers have also observed the effect in other liquids and magnetic alloys, which indicates that causes specific to water, like hydrogen bonds, cannot fully explain the effect. Further complicating the investigation of the Mpemba effect is that many water-based experiments involve a phase transition between liquid and ice, which is dependent on conditions like the container and environment; that makes measurements hard to obtain and extremely difficult to reproduce.

… Bechhoefer and his team used a simple and unambiguous definition to measure the inverse Mpemba effect: the time it takes a system that starts at one equilibrium temperature to reach another, higher temperature. By using a single colloidal particle, they avoided the unnecessary complications of phase transitions in water and other systems.

In their experiment, optical tweezers create a force and thus a potential in which the particle moves. The potential is a tilted double well, … . The particle can settle into two different local minima, the left or the right valley. The potential qualitatively mimics the states of supercooled water: One local minimum has a slightly higher free energy, representing liquid (left), and the other, representing solid ice (right), has a lower free energy because that state is favored.

… To get the same quality of results observed for the forward Mpemba effect, the team had to perform five times the number of trials—5000 rather than 1000—and they believe they know why. In the forward effect, particles fall quickly into one of the two potential wells. The fraction in the left and the fraction in the right, in general, differ from the fractions that should probabilistically be in each well in equilibrium, after the system has settled to its final temperature. That difference leads to a second, slower step, in which particles hop the barrier into the other well until the correct fractions are attained. If the barrier is tall, the process can be slow and create a sharp separation in time between the initial drop into the well and the hopping. When the Mpemba effect is working at its strongest, the hopping is minimal and the relaxation time to the final equilibrium temperature is short.

African Software Developers in High Demand Globally

Software_ComputerThe coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of upheavals around the world. Apparently, it was not all bad, as it has allowed for some gems to be uncovered and some local economies to focus on internal development vs being turned out to the outside. AfricaNews recently reported that the demand for African software developers has increased as a result of the pandemic. Below are excerpts from the AfricaNews article. Will this trend keep up and help to counter the African Brain drain?


The demand for African computer software developers skyrocketed in 2021 due to the global economic crisis, and of course, Covid 19 also played a role, a new Google report reveals.

In the Africa Developer Ecosystem report, data was gathered from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.

In an interview with 1,600 software developers, Google discovered that 38% of African developers work for at least one company based outside of the continent.

“Across the continent, the pool of professional developers increased by 3.8% year on year. The total number of developers in Africa is now 716,000,” the survey discloses.

In what may seem like a confirmation to the findings by google, recent research, highlighting the dynamic and growing market for the continent’s technical talent over the last two years also showed that Four out of every ten African software developers now work for at least one company based outside of the continent, while five work for local start-ups.

A 22% rise in the use of the internet by small and medium-sized businesses in Africa, a record fundraising streak by local startups in 2021 and demand for remote tech workers in more mature markets are all factors attributed to the rising awareness of Africa’s software development talent.

“Increased global demand for remote tech talent, which was enhanced by the pandemic, created more remote employment opportunities for African developers,” said Google.

2022 International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

March 8th marks the International Women’s Day (IWD). Growing up, this was a day of celebration of the woman’s place in society, talks and conferences took place, school-age students wrote poems or offered flowers to their female teachers, in some cases parades took place, and much more. For IWD, President Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso made it a day when the men participated in house chores, some would do the groceries for the day, thus getting more acquainted with the family needs, or take over some other chores; this made it so that the men where now aware of the demands and lives of their partners. More recently, the talk has been big on equal pay… yet when attending lectures where women talk about equal pay, few men are present… if real change is to take place, everybody needs to be a part of the conversation. There are probably a lot of men who would appreciate the extra income that their wives being paid equally would bring to the family, perhaps adding money to the children’s school fees, family travels, house repairs, medical bills, retirement funds, to name just a few. This needs to be a common goal. We cannot let the powers that be keep us divided over an issue such as equal pay, where women who work just as hard as men, and the same hours are paid less for the same job… Isn’t that absurd? IWD is not just another day on the calendar, but it is a day for everybody to acknowledge women, recognize their place as equal, and celebrate their contributions to society.