Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has been the main sponsor of a $3.4 million observatory in Ethiopia to be operated by the Ethiopian Space Science Society (ESSS) whose 1,800 members also contributed to its construction. It opened for use on 19 October. This is East Africa's largest observatory, situated 3,200 metres (10,500 feet) above sea level in the Entoto mountains just outside Addis Ababa and it is designed to promote astronomy and astrophysics research in the region. It has two telescopes, each one metre (over three feet) wide and research programmes may include the search for exoplanets.
Ethiopian national interest in space discovery started with the foundation of the ESSS in 2004. The Ethiopian mountains are an ideal location for space observation because of minimal cloud cover, moderate winds and low humidity. The Society began by introducing astronomy courses into the Ethiopian educational system but it gained increasing political support as the country developed. The Government is now intent on formulating a national space policy in the coming years, with plans to launch Ethiopia’s first satellite in three years to study weather and assist in telecommunications.
The rationale lies in seeing science as central to national development and fully compatible with a fast growing agriculturally-based economy. It also fits with a wider African commitment to engaging with space research, as announced by the African Union in 2009. There are also plans for a second observatory, intriguingly positioned near the famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela showing that cultural tradition and modern science can co-exist. There is also the prospect of ‘space tourism’ as a revenue earner since the Ethiopian Mountains can offer a unique perspective on the skies. The Director of the Observatory is Solomon Belay.