South Africa is preparing to take a giant leap for mankind by building a telescope that the world’s leading astronomers will use to seek the origins of the universe. A few hundred sheep have so far been relocated from a desolate area of the semi-arid Northern Cape to make way for the seven-dish Meerkat radio telescope, already in operation and the precursor to the massive Square Kilometre Array telescope (SKA), planned to comprise 64 dishes, each 13m in diameter.
South Africa hopes to be chosen next year to host the world’s most powerful telescope. If successful then the newly declared 1,000 sq km Northern Cape astronomy reserve – where all radio signals including mobile phones are banned under a parliamentary Act passed in 2007 – will truly come into its own. The nearest town, Carnarvon, whose main tourism draw is a tortoise farm, will boom. Cape Town, to which information gathered by SKA is expected to be transmitted, will require a world-beating internet upgrade.
Adrian Tiplady, one of the lead scientists on the Meerkat project, says that SKA would also create thousands of jobs. “Up to R1.5bn (€155m) can be expected to be spent on infrastructure development alone,’’ he said. “We expect a total return of between two and 20 times the capital cost of the SKA in terms of socio-economic benefits.’’
During 2011, 500 astronomers from all over the world are expected to beat a path to Meerkat to spend 43,000 viewing hours conducting experiments – ranging from challenging Einstein’s theory of relativity to a survey of neutral hydrogen in the early universe.
Stargazing:the other big telescope
Shining a light: The wonderfully named Extremely Large Telescope will be built in Chile’s Atacama desert. The European Southern Observatory-managed telescope, which should be working by 2018, is expected to provide insight into black holes, dark matter and the formation of distant galaxies.
Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade, wants to be remembered as a man of grand ideas. His most recent project, the £17m (€20m) bronze African Renaissance monument, was unveiled in Dakar in April. Now the octogenarian president, who is standing for re-election in 2012, wants to create a pan-African calendar, dubbed the Calendar of the African Renaissance, to symbolise the continent’s “rebirth”.
Under the plans, the year would begin on 3 April, the anniversary of the inauguration of the monument. Wade says he will offer $35,000 (€26,000) for a design, including pan-African inspired names for the months of the year.
February’s presidential election run-up began with President Yoweri Museveni (right) launching his campaign by rapping for a crowd of young voters – the country has the world’s second youngest population. Yet his grip on the reins might be looser than at any point during his near 25 years in power. His rival at the last two elections, his former doctor, Kizza Besigye, is running again.
Most analysts, though, expect Besigye to lose because they say the elections will be rigged like the past two. With Uganda about to start exporting oil , and a population in a hurry to get fat off the back of it, the stakes are higher than ever.
Lebanon was once a centre for religious pilgrimage. In an effort to rekindle this tradition, battered by four decades of conflict, it has launched a religious tourism campaign in the hope this will strengthen the ties between the country’s 18 religious groups.
“We know the demographic make-up is changing but this should not change Lebanon’s mission as a country of religious co-existence,” says Roula Ajouz, project director for cultural and religious tourism. With more than 600 Christian and Muslim sites, hopes are high. “We want Lebanon to be a tourist destination 365 days a year,” says Ajouz.
Posters along Nairobi’s Uhuru highway serve as a reminder of how dangerous Kenyan elections can be – several insurance firms are advertising protection against political violence.
Kenya will elect a new president next year and few measures have been put into place to prevent a repeat of the violence that killed 1,300 people after the 2007 poll.
Africa is home to the world’s youngest ruling monarch, King Rukidi IV of Toro of Uganda. Ascending to the throne as a toddler, the 18-year-old oversees a southwestern chunk of the country, whose kingdoms were reinstated in 1993 by President Museveni to help stabilise the country.