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Thursday, January 15, 2009

China launches Nigerian satellite

Rocket preparing to launch
China is launching rockets for 30 countries
China has successfully launched a communications satellite for Nigeria.

The official Xinhua news agency says it is the first time that a foreign buyer has purchased both a Chinese satellite and its launching service.

The Nigerian Communication Satellite NIGCOMSAT-1 is expected to offer broadcasting, phone and broadband internet services for Africa.

China beat 21 other bidders in 2004 for the $311m contract to launch the satellite, Xinhua says.

The satellite, lofted by a Long March 3-B rocket, is expected to reach its final position later this year and to remain in operation for 15 years.

The launch is being portrayed as part of a drive to enhance rural access to technology and the internet and boost Nigeria's and Africa's knowledge economy.

"It gives you bandwidth to enable you to communicate from point A to point B, from rural Africa to urban cities," Dr Bashir Gwandu, a member of the Satellite Launch Committee and a director at the Nigeria Communications Commission told the BBC's Focus on Africa.

Nigeria has been experiencing a communications revolution in recent years, says the BBC's Alex Last, and is one of the fastest growing mobile phone markets in Africa and the world.

Having a space programme is also symbolic of how Nigeria wants to be seen as a growing player on the world stage.

Critics say the majority of the population live in poverty and the internet can be made redundant by the simple fact that electricity is sporadic at best.

The government should rather spend all this money on power, job creation and basic public services, they say.


This is the latest example of growing economic co-operation between China and Africa.

China is buying African raw materials, and building infrastructure such as roads.

The launch represented "China's wish to cooperate with developing countries in the peaceful use of outer space and to promote a closer relationship between China and African countries," Xinhua says.

China is expanding its space programme, and in 2003 became only the third country to launch a man into space.

This is one of 30 foreign satellites China has been commissioned to launch, Xinhua reports.

Nigeria already has a weather satellite launched in 2003 with Russian assistance.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Africans adapt to Nordic chill

The BBC's African Perspective programme is investigating what life is like for some of an estimated 20 million Africans who live in the diaspora.

Ellen Otzen visits Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, to see how the 45,000 Africans there have adapted to their chilly Nordic home.

In a small, white house standing in the shadow of Copenhagen's oldest churches people from Cameroon, Botswana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda meet each Wednesday night to sing in a gospel music choir.

Ugandan Joel Moses came to Denmark for love, 13 years ago.

 Denmark is a very small country... I don't think the Danes were prepared for all of us 
Ugandan Peace Kabushenga

"I was once married to a Danish woman. She couldn't stand living in Africa and so I moved to her home," he explains.

"I love to sing and so I come every Wednesday even if I am tired, physically - it builds me up and gears me up for a new day.

"To be honest, I really come to do something as an African in a white community because there's a lot of things I do that are gone, not recognised. But I think I am recognised by reaching out to my fellow Africans."

Love broke down for Joel as it did for another Ugandan, Peace Kabushenga.


She is a project manager dealing with HIV/Aids among the ethnic minorities in Denmark.

Al Agami
Rapper Al Agami came to Denmark as a political refugee

She arrived in Copenhagen almost 30 years ago in 1979, as a diplomat's wife. Her life then was comfortable.

But it ended abruptly when their relationship broke down and her husband returned to Uganda.

"It was a dramatic change," says Peace, who found herself as a single mother far from home.

"I had to declare myself a refugee to live in Denmark. I had to live in a refugee camp while my papers were being processed.

"Strangely, I knew no other Africans," she recalls.

"It was my Danish friends who helped me. Of course I would've survived - I am strong; but they made it so much easier for me and most importantly, for my son."

Historic links

Denmark never had colonies in Africa but ties between the sea-faring Danes and Africa's Gold Coast, now Ghana, stretch way back in history.

The Ghanaian seat of government, in the capital, Accra, is housed in the original Christiansborg Castle - a slave fort built by the Danes in the 17th century.

 After the 11th of September, Islam became a political issue and it is a big one here in Denmark, unfortunately 
Khadija Fara
Somali social worker

Stored inside the Presbyterian Church in Accra's Osu district are records from the 1850s, chronicling families with Danish fathers and Ghanaian mothers.

Eighty Danish surnames, like Svanekær, Richter and Holm are still in use today in Ghana.

More recently the links are developmental ones. In the 1960s Danish doctors, vets and engineers were sent to Africa and in return African students came to study.

Then as oppressive regimes took over it was scared, political refugees, like rapper Al Agami, who started to head to Africa-friendly Denmark.

'Fear factor'

Al Agami was born in Uganda's capital, Kampala, but grew up in Denmark. He also spent three years living in Afghanistan. His father was a soldier.

Al Agami
Al Agami is popular in Denmark

"I am a political refugee. I wound up in Denmark because of my father's stress with the Idi Amin [a former Ugandan dictator] era."

Al Agami is now one of the biggest names in Danish rap music.

He recalls how Denmark in the 1970s was "very quiet" which he feels is a contradiction to his "can't sit still" personality.

He says it was weird because there were "no brown faced children" but there was "no fear factor", unlike now.

Somali Khadija Fara works as a social adviser. When she arrived in the 1980s, she says things were different; but it was during the 1990s that everything began changing.

"Many, many Somali refugees came to Denmark and they were the biggest minority group," Khadija says.

That is when the fear factor, as Al Agami calls it, set in.

Shift in attitude

Hostility, resentment and friction rose and two years ago, tension spilled over when Muslims took to the streets outraged by cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed in a Danish newspaper.

"After the 11th of September [2001], Islam became a political issue and it is a big one here in Denmark, unfortunately," explains Khadija.

"I wish people would instead use their energy on other things like integration and making the second generation immigrants from feeling marginalised."

Peace Kabushenga believes the problems have stemmed from the large number of immigrants arriving.

"You have to bear in mind that Denmark is a very small country and so many foreigners have come in. I don't think the Danes were prepared for all of us."

The resultant shift in attitude has caused Peace to worry for herself and her son.

"When he's out there I don't want him to feel like a foreigner. I would feel very sad if he told me, he was mistreated on the streets," she says.

"Yes, he has a black skin but he has his roots here and he is very, very Danish."

What does medicine owe to Africa?

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Bushmen. Pic caption:Credit: Chris Sattlberger/SPL
Bushmen use a plant to suppress their appetites
The contribution of European culture to medicine has long been recognised.

The Greeks are thought by many to be forerunners of modern medicine - they studied the progression of disease, they knew something of the inner workings of the body, and their language gave medicine many of its terms.

But the Greeks probably learnt much from the Ancient Egyptians who understood the workings of the body from practising mummification.

Imhotep, architect of the famous step pyramids, has even been dubbed the first "father of medicine" for his influence.

Egyptologist Stephen Quirke said that, although the information from the time is sketchy, Imhotep did have an important role to play.

He is credited with diagnosing and treating over 200 diseases and even performing surgery and dentistry. Some say his work even influenced Hippocrates.

There is a very close connection in African thinking between the spiritual and physical
Professor Peter Houghton, University College London

Katie Maggs, associate medical curator at London's Science Museum, said much of Africa's contribution to medicine had been overlooked.

"There is evidence that suggests African medicine, and primarily Egyptian healing cults and physicians, had an influence on Greek cultures and that there was a cultural exchange of ideas."

She added: "African medicine is a thriving enterprise.

"But there is a debate to be had about why Indian and Chinese medicines which you can get on the High Street, but African medicine is still very much a taboo subject. We need to go beyond that."

And she said Western medicine would not thrive in Africa if the medical knowledge built up there over centuries was ignored.

"The provision of bio-medical care won't happen unless people work very closely with traditional healers," she said.

On sale

Professor Peter Houghton, an expert in the study of natural medicines at University College London, said the medical establishment had traditionally dismissed herbal remedies as not having a scientific basis but that it was now possible to test the compounds involved.

A bronze statue of Imhotep next to a porcelain figure of Hippocrates
Imhotep: the first founder of medicine?

"We can analyse these complex mixtures and their complex effects on the body.

"There is a lot more interest in how we might be able to utilise these medicines."

He said a number of African herbal remedies were currently on sale in the UK or over the internet.

"One which is quite widely known is Devil's Claw, which is the root of a plant which comes from the Kalahari desert in Southern Africa, and is used for aches and pains.

"Then there is a cream made from an extract of the fruit of the sausage tree, that grows all over along the rivers in Savannah countryside, which I am doing some work on.

"The local people have used it for a long time for treating skin conditions, but you can get a cream on the internet in this country which some say is good for getting rid of pigmented areas and freckles and others say is useful for psoriasis.

"I would stress that this needs clinical tests, but that is the case for lots and lots of herbal medicines."

He added: "There was a lot of interest a few years ago in the anti-obesity properties of a South African plant called hootia, which looks like a cactus and was used by the bushmen to suppress their appetites when they went hunting."

Professor Houghton said the African contribution to medicine tended to be overlooked.

"It tends to be a continent, though not the only one, where you associate medicine with so-called witchcraft.

"But there is a very close connection in African thinking between the spiritual and physical.

"And now increasingly people are realising that you can't just treat people as machines, and that is one of the reasons for the popularity of complementary medicines - that people get treated more as people."