Italian Space Center in Kenya?

Flag of Kenya

Do you know about the Italian-run Broglio Space Centre (previously known as the San Marco Equatorial Range) located off the coasts of Kenya? Yes… you heard me right, there is an an Italian space center in MalindiKenya. As you recall, Malindi was the first African city the most venerated Chinese maritime admiral Zheng He reached on the horn of Africa in 1418, even before Vasco da Gama? Indeed, Zheng He’s great armada rich of more than 300 ships and as many as 30,000 troops entered the coastal town of Malindi, in modern day Kenya, in 1418. If you are like me, this is quite a news: a space center off the coast of an African country (if you know of others, please let me know), and an Italian presence in Africa tends to be sparse, especially since its defeat at the hands of Ethiopia at the Battle of Adwa, and later during world war II. Can you imagine that the presence of this space center has created such a Kenyan-Italian synergy to the point that the lingua franca on Malindi is Italian? I wonder if they ever hire or train the locals to operate this space center, or to be engineers, technical workforce? From past experience, they probably don’t. Excerpts below are from the BBC. Enjoy!

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Flag of Italy

Malindi, a seaside town by the Indian Ocean that was founded in the 13th Century, is 120km (about 75 miles) north-east of Mombasa and has been known as “Little Italy” since the late 1960s.

The tourist resort is brimming with Italian restaurants, pizzerias, delis and gelato shops – billboards advertise in Italian, restaurant menus offer after-dinner liquors such as Limoncello and Amaro.

Most people speak Italian – from the Kenyan housekeeper where I stayed and the tuk-tuk drivers who ferried me around, to the waiters and the fisherman hanging around on the beach.

It is the town’s lingua franca. …

The history of the Italians in Malindi goes back to the opening of the Italian-run Broglio Space Centre off Kenya’s coast [32 km from Malindi] in the Indian Ocean. [It started as a partnership between the Italian Space Research Commission and NASA, with 2 offshore launch sites made from old oil platforms, and a mainland communications station].

Broglio Space Centre Platform (Source: NASA on BBC website)

The first Italians to arrive in the town were engineers and scientists, who loved what they found. Word soon spread about Malindi’s miles of pristine beaches, abundance of seafood and good-natured inhabitants [colonization was always like that: good-natured inhabitants who could be fooled easily, and their lands grabbed away].

By the 1970s the community began to take shape, with many settling in Malindi and pursuing opportunities in the tourism industry.

They opened hotels, restaurants, built beach villas and became economically integral in the town.

… The town had its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s when tourism boomed and estimates suggest 4,000 Italians lived in the town and 30,000 visited annually.

But a shadier side to Malindi also emerged with allegations that the underage sex trade was rampant, as was the drugs trade and even whispers of the Italian mafia’s presence.

Still the tropical paradise with its hint of noir flourished until a slump began with Italy’s financial crash of 2008.

… But it is still a blissful place to relax and enjoy if you can visit, and while tucking into a delicious plate of crab linguine, I felt transported back in time if not place.

Mining giant Glencore faces human rights complaint over toxic spill in Chad

Flag of Chad

Another giant is facing human rights complain over toxic spill in Chad… Usually these giant corporations are free to pollute in Africa, and never or rarely face any setbacks… I wonder what this is all about… is there a competitor to Glencore that wants Glencore out of Chad to come polluting as well? I know I am a cynic… but you will have to admit that these giant corporations have polluted freely in every corner of the world, and in Africa in particular, without even getting a tap on the hand. I applaud this and hope that the people of Chad will get compensated… as no pollution should go unpunished. Excerpts below are from an article in the Guardian.

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The wastewater basin at Glencore UK’s operations in Badila, southern Chad, collapsed in September 2018, unleashing 85m litres of runoff. Photograph: Raid (Source: The Guardian)

The UK government has accepted a human rights complaint against mining and commodities giant Glencore regarding a toxic wastewater spill in Chad, where dozens of villagers – among them children – claim they suffered severe burns, skin lesions and sickness after contact with contaminated water.

The complaint, brought by three human rights groups on behalf of affected communities, alleges environmental abuses and social engagement failures by the FTSE-100 company in relation to two spillages, the wastewater spill and an alleged oil spill, both in 2018.

… In September 2018, a wastewater basin holding a crude oil by-product collapsed at Glencore UK’s operations in Badila, southern Chad. Some 85 m litres of runoff – equivalent in volume to 34 Olympic-sized swimming pools – flooded fields and the local river, which local people use for drinking, bathing and washing.

At least 50 people reported burns, skin lesions, sickness and diarrhoea after bathing in or using the contaminated river water in the weeks after the leak. Many of those harmed were children, some of whom were admitted to hospital. One 13-year-old boy was unable to move his body for a year after swimming in the river, which doctors attributed to the “crude oil burns”. Livestock drinking from the river also died, according to the complaint.

World Tiniest Reptile found in Madagascar

Madagascar
Madagascar

There has been a discovery of possibly the world’s tiniest reptile in Madagascar, the grande Ile. It is a Seed-sized chameleon, which scientists have tagged the nano-chameleon, named Brookesia nana (who gives these sort of names? – the Brookesia is probably derived from one of the scientist’s name), whose body is only 13.5 mm long. Excerpts below are from the Guardian. Enjoy!

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Scientists say they have discovered a sunflower-seed-sized subspecies of chameleon that may well be the smallest reptile on Earth.

Two of the miniature lizards, one male and one female, were discovered by a German-Madagascan expedition team in northern Madagascar.

The male Brookesia nana, or nano-chameleon, has a body that is only 13.5 mm (0.53 inches) long, making it the smallest of all the roughly 11,500 known species of reptiles, the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich said. Its total length from nose to tail is just under 22 mm (0.87 inch).

The female nano-chameleon is significantly larger, with an overall length of 29 mm, the research institute said, adding that the scientists were unable to find further specimens of the new subspecies “despite great effort”.

Professor Hulda Swai of Tanzania Wins Distinguished Science Award: ‘Women are as good as men’

Professor Hulda Swai (Source: nm-aist.ac.tz)

Congratulations to Professor Hulda Swai of Tanzania for winning the 2020 prize of the African Union Kwame Nkrumah Continental Awards for Scientific Excellence. This is a prestigious scientific award in Africa. Her work with nanotechnology has helped to study more effective anti-malarial medicines, and through the World Bank, she has helped to secure millions of dollars to fund African researchers. She is an outstanding scientist, and Oliver Tambo Chair for Nanotechnology as well as the director of the African Center of Excellence at the Nelson Mandela Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST) in Tanzania. The award comes with the sum of $20,000. She told the BBC’s Focus on Africa radio programme, “I’m using nanotechnology, which is my training and expertise, to improve the availability of existing herbal extracts which are very potent but are lacking for example solubility.” Excerpts below are from the The Citizen. Please also take the time to listen to her interview to the BBC at the BBC’s Focus on Africa radio programme.

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Flag of Tanzania

Arusha. Tanzanian scholar Hulda Swai has won a prestigious scientific award in Africa. The award has been given since 2008 by the African Union (AU) Commission as part of its drive to promote science, technology and innovation. The professor of life sciences and bioengineering was declared the 2020 winner of AU Kwame Nkrumah Continental Awards for Scientific Excellence.

It is sweet news but I’m not entirely surprised. Science has been part of my life since childhood.”

… The award goes with a $20,000 (about Sh 47 million) cash prize for the 66 year old female scholar specializing in nanotechnology.

Prof Swai is the current leader of the African Centre for Research, Agricultural Advancement, Teaching Excellence, and Sustainability at NM-AIST. …

Last year, Prof Swai was appointed as one of the chair holders of the prestigious O.R Tambo Africa Research Chairs Initiative. … The objective, she noted, is to give out scientific awards to top African scientists “for their scientific achievements and valuable discoveries and findings.”

When the Kilimanjaro Leads to Happy Corals !

Mt Kilimanjaro (Source: KidsKonnect.com)

What does the Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain on African soil, have to do with corals in the ocean? Well, it turns out that there are channels of cool water that developed millions of years ago under the Mt Kilimanjaro, and these end in the Indian ocean off the coast of Mombasa. With the recent warming of the oceans, this cool water meets the ocean right on the coast to create a sort of marine sanctuary for corals, dolphins, and even species taught to be extinct. Enjoy excerpts below from the article at the Guardian!

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Scientists have discovered a climate crisis refuge for coral reefs off the coast of Kenya and Tanzania, where species are thriving despite warming events that have killed their neighbours.

The coral sanctuary is a wildlife hotspot, teeming with spinner dolphins and boasting rare species, including prehistoric fish and dugongs. Researchers believe its location in a cool spot in the ocean is helping to protect it and the surrounding marine life from the harmful effects of the climate crisis.

[Tim] McClanahan, the lead scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society, who lives and works in Mombasa, Kenya, said he had an “epiphany” when he realised why the reef was so rich in wildlife. The coastline has the highest density of dolphins in east Africa, and coelacanths, fish once believed extinct, swim in its deep waters. “I thought ‘why are all the animals here?’ And I realised it was because of Kilimanjaro,” he said.

The coral refuge, which stretches from Shimoni, 50 miles south of Mombasa, in Kenya to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, is fed by cool water from deep channels formed thousands of years ago by glacial runoff from Mt Kilimanjaro and the Usambara mountains.

Innovation in the Face of Adversity: Using Tech to Prevent Car Theft… with no Internet

Flag of Cameroon

Have you ever had your car stolen? Have you had to file a police report about it? or just spent days looking everywhere for it, scanning every car in the streets in hope of finding your car? Talk of sleepless nights, and endless talks with the insurance company? Now, imagine having the opportunity to track your car, and immobilize it while the thief is driving it away? Wouldn’t that be great? No more need to deal with busy police, or endless talk with insurance… Hooray to peace of mind!

Well, Zuo Bruno, a Cameroonian entrepreneur has created a car security solution just for you: his mobile application, Zoomed, enables people to track their vehicles and immobilize them if they are stolen, with or without internet. Remember that in many places in Africa, internet is a luxury, or is sketchy, … or like in the case of Zuo, the government had shutdown the internet to his province for over 90 days. His application also enables to track the car’s fuel consumption, which is very helpful if you are the owner of a fleet of vehicles, such as taxis. Enjoy this quick video, and salute the ingenuity of a brother!

Blombos Cave: Earliest Known Drawing by a Human found in Africa old of 73,000 years

Rock Art from Blombos Cave (Source: C. Henshilwood, Wikipedia)

We take drawing for granted, and we know that our ancestors, ancient humans thought of drawings as a very good communication tool, as depicted in petroglyphs found in a thousand places on the African continent, in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

This may be old news to some, but the earliest evidence of a drawing made by humans has been found in the Blombos Cave in the southern Cape province of South Africa. Blombos Cave contains material dating from 100,000—70,000 years ago.

The drawing, which consists of three red lines cross-hatched with six separate lines, was intentionally drawn on a smooth silcrete flake about 73,000 years ago. This predates previous drawing from Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia.

Oldest Drawing by Homo Sapiens, dated to be 73,000 years old, found in the Blombos Cave (Source: Wikipedia)

Excavations at the world-famous archeological Blombos Cave site, have yielded many important riches. These include delicately crafted stones and bone implements preceding comparable European artifacts by more than 80,000 years, and at least 8,000 pieces of ochre, used as colour pigment by early humans. This indicates that our ancestors already had an acute sense of colors, and the different properties of these oxidizing colors (ferrous oxide), suggesting a strong understanding of the chemistry behind the colors’ composition.

… the drawings were made with an ochre crayon, with a tip of between 1 and 3 millimetres thick. Further, the abrupt termination of the lines at the edge of the flake also suggested that the pattern originally extended over a larger surface, and may have been more complex in its entirety.

Before this discovery, Palaeolithic archaeologists have for a long time been convinced that unambiguous symbols first appeared when Homo sapiens entered Europe, about 40,000 years ago, and later replaced local Neanderthals,” says Pr. Christopher Henshilwood from the University of Witswatersrand. “Recent archaeological discoveries in Africa, Europe and Asia, in which members of our team have often participated, support a much earlier emergence for the production and use of symbols.”

The archaeological layer in which the Blombos drawing was found also yielded other indicators of symbolic thinking, such as shell beads covered with ochre, and, more importantly, pieces of ochres engraved with abstract patterns. Some of these engravings closely resemble the one drawn on the silcrete flake.

Bifacial silcrete point from M1 phase (71,000 BCE) layer of Blombos Cave, South Africa (Source: Wikipedia)

This demonstrates that early Homo sapiens in the southern Cape used different techniques to produce similar signs on different media,” says Henshilwood. “This observation supports the hypothesis that these signs were symbolic in nature and represented an inherent aspect of the behaviorally modern world of these African Homo sapiens, the ancestors of all of us today.

To find out more, please read this article written by Christopher Henshilwood and his team in Nature, as well as this article in the National Geographic.

John Amanam: Making Super Realistic Prostheses in Africa for Africans

Meet John Amanam, the Nigerian artist/engineer building super-realistic prostheses for Africans in Africa. I really liked his work: this is a self-thought man who used to work in the Nollywood industry, with no real training in prostheses, but a love of sculpture and most importantly of his fellow human being. After noticing family members who had lost limbs, he set out to make realistic-looking and affordable limbs with ebony, or mahogany shades, the shades of his fellow brothers and sisters. In essence, he is giving back confidence to those who have lost limbs. Enjoy!

Experts crack mystery of ancient Egypt’s sacred bird mummies

Ibis
Ibises near a lake on the African continent

Did you know that ancient Egyptians did not only mummify humans, but animals also? Animals such as cats, crocodiles, mongooses, and ibises have been found in Egyptian pyramids. In ancient Egypt, the ibis was a special bird who represented the god Thoth, god of wisdom, magic,  writing, hieroglyphs, science, art, judgment, and the dead. For the longest times, scientists could not understand where millions of ibises which had been mummified came from. Now, they seemingly have cracked this mystery.

Excerpts below are from the The Guardian.

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DNA analysis helps work out origin of nearly 6 million mummified ibises

An ancient Egyptian mystery has been solved, according to researchers, who say they have cracked the conundrum of where millions of mummified birds came from.

Pharaohs and members of the nobility were often mummified, but the practice was not reserved for humans – cats, crocodiles, mice and mongooses are among the mummified animals that have been found.

While some have been discovered alongside human burials, others – most notably the sacred ibis bird – were mummified as part of rituals designed to curry favour with the gods.

More than 4 million sacred ibis mummies have been found in the catacombs of Tuna el-Gebel and 1.75 million have been discovered in the ancient burial ground of Saqqara. The vast majority were votive offerings to the god Thoth, a practice that had its heyday between 450BC and 250BC.

The ibis was considered [to represent] the god Thoth, the god of wisdom, the god of magic, the god of judgment, writing all sorts of things,” said Sally Wasef, a research fellow at Griffith University in Australia and first author of the research.

If you had a boss that annoys you and you don’t feel like you are getting a good judgment from him or you want fairness and justice, you go and ask Thoth to interfere and in return you promise to offer him an ibis, a mummified ibis, in his annual feast.

But the sheer quantity of mummified ibises left experts scratching their heads – where did all these birds come from?

One suggestion is that they were reared on an industrial scale in hatcheries. That idea appears to have some support in ancient texts, such as the writings of Hor of Sebennytos, a priest and scribe in the second century BC, who wrote about feeding tens of thousands of sacred ibis with bread and clover.

Ibis_The god Thoth
The god Thoth

To explore the possibility, Wasef and colleagues analysed DNA from 14 mummified sacred ibises found in ancient Egypt and 26 modern samples from across Africa.

… The results, published in the journal Plos One, reveal the level of diversity in the mitochondrial DNA among the ancient birds is similar to that among modern wild birds, and have similar levels of potentially harmful mutations. However, the team says if the ancient Egyptians farmed sacred ibises, the genetic diversity in ancient birds would probably be lower due to high levels of inbreeding.

Wasef said this suggested that, rather than being bred in a mass-farming situation, sacred ibises were tempted to local areas and kept in a natural habitat – or perhaps captured and kept in farms for a short time, ready for sacrifice.
[The most likely thing is ] next to each temple there was like a lake or a wetland – it is a natural habitat for the ibis to live in and if you are giving them food they will keep coming,” she said. Indeed, she notes, there was a swamp near Tuna el-Gebel and the Lake of the Pharaoh near Saqqara. …

Saving the Manatee: A Conservation Mission to save Africa’s Sea Mammals

Manatee_Senegal
African manatees are classed as a vulnerable species and are on the IUCN Red List. Photograph: Lucy Keith-Diagne/African Aquatic Conservation Fund

In many African countries, from Senegal down to Angola, the manatee is known as Mamy-Wata or the Sirena or a water spirit. It is a sea creature which can also be found in lakes, as well as on the ocean. There is a lot of myths surrounding the creature, and how difficult they are to find. There is also a lot of ideas surrounding their use in local medicines, with a high demand coming from Asia, to the point that they have now become endangered. This article on conservation efforts to save the manatee is from The Guardian. Enjoy!

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Once branded ‘rogue animals’, the elusive creatures were on the brink of extinction, but hope is rising for their survival

… For the past 14 years Keith-Diagne has been on a mission to protect the African manatee. There are an estimated 10,000 left, spread across 21 African countries, from the coast of Senegal down to Angola and inland to Chad. …

African manatees are classified as a vulnerable species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. They face many threats, including entanglement in fishing nets and entrapment in dams. In some countries they are heavily poached.

… The animals are so elusive that many locals know them only from myths. In countries such as Senegal, where the animals are revered as auspicious water spirits, poaching is rare. But dams still pose a major threat: the cumbersome mammals can get trapped in narrow passageways and drown.

Manatee_Map in Africa
Approximate distribution of the manatee in Africa

Keith-Diagne said local dam authorities have been receptive to her proposed modifications of the structures. Politicians have also come on board. In 2014, her husband, Tomas Diagne, also a biologist, successfully petitioned the government to set aside 275 hectares (679 acres) for an aquatic reserve. The area is now home to an estimated 100 manatees as well as hundreds of Adanson’s mud turtles – a species unique to the local lake. The couple are also helping the surrounding communities to develop an ecotourism industry.

Keith-Diagne’s conservation work has extended into other parts of Africa. With the help of a Pew Marine fellowship, she formed a network of nine biologists in Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of Congo to document every manatee captured or killed over three years. The project has already identified one clear trend: Nigeria is a leader in manatee mortality.

Hunters can make up to $2,000 (£1,626) from a single catch in the country, where manatee meat is said to be beneficial for diabetics and their oil is thought to be cholesterol-free. In addition, their penises are believed to cure impotence, their ear bones to ward off bullets, and eyes believed to possess magical powers. The faeces left over in manatee intestines are dried and used to mend broken bones.

According to Nigerian myth, upon encountering a human, a manatee will tickle them until they laugh so hard they drown.

Rumours of manatees breaking fishing nets and capsizing canoes led to their classification as a “rogue animal” in the 1970s – an official classification for animals that threaten human livelihoods, such as crocodiles and hippopotami.

Manatee
The manatee

… [Edem] Eniang, [a professor of wildlife resource management at the University of Uyo in Nigeria] and his team often go undercover, posing as buyers to keep tabs on poachers and document manatee killings. They visit schools to teach the importance of conservation and they run TV and radio information campaigns. Such campaigns can and have made a difference. In Cameroon, education and awareness initiatives have pushed manatee hunting to its lowest level.

Aristide Takoukam, the director of the African Marine Mammal Conservation Organisation in Cameroon, gives frequent presentations at schools and organises field trips to Lake Ossa, a wildlife reserve created in 1948.

I want to teach them to see nature in a different way than their parents,” he says. “I want to show them that in animals, they can also find beauty.”

He also trains fishermen in how to make a living from bee farming and soap making instead of manatee hunting and with the help of an American ecotourism expert, is developing an industry around manatee sightseeing, complete with lakeside bungalows, kayaking and bird watching.

I want to show them that a manatee is worth more alive than dead,” he says. …