The East African Astronomical Society is a spin –off of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 activities. It was during this year that the first regional astronomy meeting (supported by IAU-TAD and SAAO) was held in Nairobi, Kenya (November 9- 13, 20009) that the idea of an Astronomical Society for East Africa was mooted and a team selected to spearhead the process of its establishment. The second regional meeting took place in February 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where participants drawn largely from the region resolved to fast track the drafting of the constitution before MEARIM II held in April 2011 in Capetown , South Africa and report the progress made at the meeting. The third meeting of the Society took place in Mukono, Uganda and it was there that the first Annual General Meeting was held and interim officials were elected.
Astronomy is slowly but steadily being embraced as a new discipline in our public universities in the region. A number of universities in the East African region are developing curricula in astronomy at the Bachelor’s degree level. However, the University of Nairobi (Kenya) is already running a program, i.e, BSc in Astronomy and Astrophysics, with about 51 students, with first lot expected to graduate in September 2013. In terms of infrastructure, Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS) together with Ministry of Education (MOE) and Ministry of Science and technology (MOST) are installing two optical telescopes at Entoto near Addis Ababa. Site survey for optical an telescope is in progress in Kenya; Telkom dish in Longonot, Kenya is to be converted into a radio telescope for the African VLBI and the Square kilometer Array is poised to establish a node in Kenya.
There are, however, a number of challenges, which include inter alia, the following:
• Lack of a critical mass of qualified astronomers within individual countries in various areas of specialization in astronomy. The few qualified astronomers are scattered across countries in the East African region and need to be facilitated to supervise or teaching in some of the programmes that are already running.
• Lack of facilities and resources to effectively run the existing programs.
• Lack of travel and accommodation support for postgraduate students to travel across borders to spend some time with potential supervisors as some of the students are self-sponsored.
• Lack of effective outreach within the individual countries.
At the moment the Society proposes to address some of these concerns the following means:
• Provide mobility support for both staff and students. This will ensure students reach their supervisors who may be in other distant universities within the East African region and qualified astronomers are able to spend sabbatical leave or a month or two at a university to teach a course or more.
• Partnerships- qualified astronomers to work with other like minded astronomers outside the region to produce teaching modules in specific areas of astronomy and astrophysics which can be used to teaching in the existing programmes and for posterity.
• Publication of newsletters to be circulated online and which can be used for outreach within the region and beyond.