Africa prepares to host the 2024 IAU General Assembly

By Mukosi Fulufhelo

Stargazing has been part of the human race from an early age. Africa boasts some of the earliest astronomical ventures [1] [2], and modern-day Africa continues to make groundbreaking discoveries and contributions to the field of Astronomy, and now, Africa has an opportunity to showcase its equal ability to contribute to human knowledge to a world that has a stream of unconscious biases toward it.   

Winning the IAU General assembly bid

Full opening bid

In August 2018, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) announced that the 2024 General Assembly will be held in Cape Town, South Africa. This will be the first time in IAU’s 105 year history that the General Assembly will be hosted on African soil. This is a historical feat for Africa.

The IAU is responsible for naming celestial objects like stars, planets and asteroids. It promotes and safeguards the science of astronomy in all its aspects, including research, communication, education and development, through international cooperation. General Assemblies are the biggest international meetings held by the astronomy community and policymakers in the field. The meetings are held every 3 years and they offer 6 IAU Symposia, around 15 Focus Meetings, and individual business and scientific meetings of Divisions, Commissions, and Working Groups and Offices [3]. 

Why is this an important event for Africa?

The General Assembly is an occasion to give voice to Africa in the global astronomical endeavour and will bring attention to the excellent science and education conducted on the continent. It will contribute to an enduring legacy of astronomy on the continent. [4]

However,  the benefits of hosting the IAU General Assembly go far beyond benefiting only the astronomy community.  At the AfAS 2021 meeting, Dr Shazrene Mohamed, from the South African Astronomical Observatory, made an analogy of a country hosting a Soccer world cup. Many developments happen in the host country in preparation for the world cup. New infrastructures are built, new businesses spring up, the country gains an influx of foreign exchange, jobs are created, and it’s a ripple effect of developments that will stay with the host country way past the world cup. We expect a similar effect from the General assembly. With about 2000 – 3000 Astronomers from around the world in attendance, this is a big opportunity for Africa to lead in a field as esoteric and technical as Astronomy. 

With a global audience, Africa can bring attention to science education, develop science programs and interest around the field, attract funding for various projects and develop communities by introducing new projects that’ll create jobs and put the particular communities on the map as with the AMT project of Namibia.   Apart from showcasing the excellent science happening in Africa, the general assembly will be an opportunity for the world to experience the Ubuntu spirit of Africa, and broaden the focus 

With a global audience, this is an opportunity for Africa to bring attention to issues wider than the science. While showcasing our significant scientific achievements, we can also highlight development challenges on the continent, and how science can play a role in addressing them. It’s an opportunity to focus on science education, the large community of amateur astronomers and enthusiasts, and the next generation of scientists. And it’s an opportunity to share the warmth and Ubuntu of Africa with the world.

How can you contribute to the success of the Cape Town General Assembly meeting?

Going back to the Soccer World Cup analogy, its success depends on the efforts of the citizens. From things as simple as how they conduct themselves, their courtesy and hospitality, to volunteering their time, knowledge and expertise, and sometimes money to the course. It’s a community effort and it contributes to a successful event. There are multiple ways for you to make your contribution to the General Assembly meeting. You can become an ambassador of the meeting If you are an Astronomer,  help with communications, outreach and fundraising, contribute your visions and ideas here, bring in your marketing and social media experience, create inspiring and creative content, e.t.c. More ways to get involved here. If you have an astronomy-related initiative, and would like to align it with the general assembly, then do get in touch. You can also email thoughts, comments, input or suggestions to