Daniel Akyeampong on Abdus Salam and African science
Professor Salam in his time played many parts on this world stage. But for us in Africa, he will be remembered, I am sure, for having made it possible for our citizens to continue to conduct research at a high level while at the same time contributing at home. His conviction was that since science is a shared heritage of mankind, all of mankind should participate fully in its creation. But this not being the case at present, he felt that the rest must help to facilitate the internationality of science, especially since, in Salam's words, "East and West, South and North have all equally participated in its creation in the past as, we hope, they will in the future." In all his efforts, he was inspired by the words of the English poet, John Donne, who he so often quoted: "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee."
The unequal opportunities which exist in the world of science engaged Salam's attention and he used his influence and prestige to try and correct the imbalance. The existence of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics shows how much can be done with determination and goodwill all around. Because of his own love for symmetry, it was his hope that the African scientist would bring into creative effect his own cultural emphasis on beauty, elegance and rhythm, just as other scientists are influenced in their work by their cultural traditions. This hope could be fulfilled given the continuing support of the Centre.
In its early operation, the number of African scientists at the Centre was low indeed. There were only two, Skyim-Kwandoh and myself, both from Ghana. We were to be joined later by Taha and Ahmed from Sudan, Maduemezia and Nwachuku from Nigeria and later still, when Condensed Matter Physics became one of the recognised programmes of the Centre, by Allotey from Ghana and Williams from Nigeria. The Centre has helped to sustain quite a sizeable number of active African mathematicians and scientists, many of whom unfortunately are no longer at home to train the next generation of scientists as envisaged by Professor Salam. These have joined the infamous brain drain - the tide that Salam strove so vigorously to stem - not because they wanted to, but because unfavourable socio-economic conditions so familiar to Salam made it difficult, if not impossible, for these scientists to be creatively productive in their own countries.
Was Professor Salam disappointed by this turn of events? Ever the optimist, Salam knew that the political and economic situations in our part of the world will take some time to improve. In the 1980's, a coup d'etat brought to an abrupt end a Regional College organised by the Centre in an African country. Subsequently, when he was informed that another College being held in an African country had been abandoned, also because of a coup, Salam's immediate reaction was "Now I know how to export coups d'etat!" These setbacks may plague the developing world into the near future, but that is no reason to prevent us from bringing some of the Centre's scientific activities nearer to home so that many more people will benefit from these collaborations.
Africa has indeed appreciated what Salam did for her sons and daughters, and this is evidenced by the number of honours bestowed on him by its academies - including the African Academy of Sciences; the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco; the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences - and by the esteemed recognition of many of its universities - including Maiduguri in Nigeria; Khartoum in Sudan; Nairobi in Kenya; National University of Benin in Cotonou, Benin; University of Ekpoma, Nigeria; Yaounde, Cameroon; Ghana - and by the several audiences granted him by heads of state throughout Africa.
Salam has bequeathed to us knowledge and compassion. So what can we do to ensure that his dream, his ideal, shall never die? The International Centre for Theoretical Physics can contribute by continuing to make it possible for many more scientists from the developing countries to meet and exchange ideas with their peers here. And the international community at large can contribute by building other centres for highly trained researchers in other fields, and locating such facilities strategically to enhance their accessibility. Building bridges to ensure the universality of science will be a lasting monument to his memory. But above all, it is the man's vision - which was his humanity - that I fervently hope the Centre will keep alive perpetually, like a flame.
JOC/EFR April 2019
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