The History of African Astronomical Society (AfAS)
The call for a Pan-African professional society of astronomers goes back several years. In 2008 both Peter Martinez (South Africa) and Pius Okeke (Nigeria) published articles on ways to develop astronomy in Africa, the latter specifically calling for the formation of a Pan-African African Astronomical Society.
Regional professional astronomical societies had been formed in both West Africa and East Africa. Colleagues in North Africa also have organized professional astronomy organizations, and the history of astronomy in South Africa is well documented.
At the 2010 launch of the African Physical Society in Dakar a number of astronomers from throughout the continent and the African diaspora resolved to form the African Astronomical Society in much the same manner as the African Physical Society was being formed. Following this meeting Pius Okeke wrote a whitepaper on the formation and the structure of the African Astronomical Society that was widely dissiminated amongst African astronomers.
At the same time Claude Carignan of Burkina Faso, who was also at the Dakar meeting, was actively organizing an IAU Symposium on galaxy formation in Ouagadougou for December 2010. This was the first IAU Symposium ever in Africa outside of South Africa. The Dakar meeting participants decided to form the African Astronomical Society at this IAU sypmposium.
In a visit to Cape Town, Carignan and Kevin Govender, then the manager of the Collateral Benefits Division of SAAO, agreed to organize a Skype teleconference to gain support for the African Astronomical Society. After this teleconference an “Interim Working Group” was formed that was to carry out the formation of the African Astronomical Society at the Ouagadougou meeting.
In Ouagadougou the Interim Working Group agreed upon a structure and constitution for the African Astronomical Society (AfAS). Jacob Ashong of Ghana was charged with officially registering the society under the laws of the Republic of Ghana, a task he completed in January 2011.
The Ouagadougou meeting is historic in that it marks the official formation of the AfAS in addition to being the first IAU Symposium ever in West Africa. It was in part made possible through the generous support of UNESCO, Swedens International Science Progamme and the National Society of Black Physicists.
The AfAS was ceremoniously launched at the 2nd Mideast Africa Regional IAU Meeting in Cape Town, South Africa in April 2011.