New fellows of the Tanzanian Academy of Science

On Thursday 7 February 2013, the Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, Professor Martyn Poliakoff, and I were privileged to watch the birth of a new tradition at the Tanzania Academy of Sciences. It was the first ever induction of new Fellows since the Academy was set up in 2005, and has quadrupled the number of Fellows of the Academy by the induction of over 100 new Fellows, over half of whom were able to attend the formal ceremony. The President of the Academy, Professor Esther Mwaikambo gave an inspiring presentation and reminded all Fellows that by being admitted to the Academy they were committing to helping the promotion of science in Tanzania.She commented on some of the  notable achievements of the Academy to date, including publication of a strategic plan, a policy for agricultural research in Tanzania and the first volume of “Lighting the Fire”, which provides stories of scientists in Tanzania to inspire the next generation of scientists.

Martyn gave another of the presentations, during which he spoke of his induction to the Fellowship at the Royal Society, at which he was told that the Society came first and if he was ever asked to do anything for it, he should say yes. His presentation was received warmly and generated many insightful questions.  When the certificates were presented, he spoke to each of the new Fellows individually, and reminded everyone to “never say no”, which they readily agreed to. He jokingly suggested this could be an informal motto of the Academy! There is no doubt of the pride of those who attended in admission to the Academy, and that the induction ceremony will develop over the years – who knows what form it might take in another 10, 50 or even 350 years, as Fellows see the part that they can, and should, play in the important work of the Academy.

The Tanzania Academy of Sciences is  supported by the Royal Society Pfizer African Academies Programme, which provides training, mentoring and project support to develop and strengthen national science academies in Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia in partnership with Network of African Science Academies (NASAC). Carmine Novembre from Pfizer was also able to attend the ceremony and spoke of Pfizer’s commitment to public health in Africa. The ceremony was followed by media interviews, with Esther, Martyn and Carmine being the star attractions for 20 or so journalists.  The induction was followed by lunch at a restaurant by the Indian Ocean – a lovely end to the official programme, and a useful opportunity to continue discussions and networking.

Over lunch we sat with the executive director of COSTECH, Dr Hassan Mshinda (one of the newly elected Fellows), and hope to continue discussions with him on our return home. COSTECH is the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology which houses the Tanzania Academy of Sciences and affords both organisations opportunities to benefit from the experience and expertise of each other.  The Academy has already achieved much despite being relatively new. Informal discussions between Martyn, Esther and other officers of the Academy  were insightful for all concerned, and we hope will be helpful to the Academy in meeting the challenges it will face as it continues to grow.

Martyn and I made a stop in Addis Ababa to visit the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences on our way to Tanzania. The Ethiopian Academy is not yet three years old, and is settling into its new premises. It too has already achieved much and has an ambitious programme of future activities, including development of their premises to include a conference centre and library. We also met with the President and other officials from the University of Addis Ababa.

The meetings we had with the Academies and with individuals and other organisations  in the fringes were all useful and will help inform our work in future.  Common themes emerged from discussions with both Academies, including engaging young scientists, women in science, and building a postdoctoral culture. We look forward to continuing the dialogue with the Academies on these and other issues, and are grateful to the Tanzania Academy of Sciences and the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences for hosting our visits and looking after us so well. The welcome we received could not have been warmer, for which we are grateful. We are looking forward to hosting secondees from each of these Academies, along with someone from the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, next month, and hope that their visits to us is as useful, interesting and enjoyable as our visits to them.  Asante and amesege’nallo’ to our hosts.

Esther being interviewed by press after the induction ceremony