Mathematics Today in Benin
Mathematicians in/from Benin.
For the Benin Institute for Mathematics, see below.
Currently, we only have a short list of Ph.D. Mathematicians from Benin. Click on the name to see what information we have in order of re ceipt of the Ph.D. Note Ezin is the first.
Ph.D. year unknown:
Norbert M. Hounkonnou; Nicolas Gabriel ANDJIGA ; Lionel BAPOUNGUE ; Lawrence DIFFO ; Fidèle AYISSI ETEME ; Christophe FOMEKONG ; Pauline FOTSO ; Siméon FOTSO ; Alphonse MBA ; Jean Wouafo KAMGA; Joel MOULEN ; Selestin NDJEYA ; Bitjong Bi NDOMBOL; Celestin NKUIMI ; Marcel TONGA; Emmanuel YOMBA
The Benin Institute for Mathematics and Physics
When the first parcel of earth was turned last spring to begin construction of a regional math centre just outside Benin's capital city Porto-Novo, it marked the end of a 25-year campaign for the construction of a regional research and training facility in this small poor country on the west coast of Africa. Jean-Pierre Ezin, a long-time visitor to ICTP and head of the University of Benin's Institut de Mathématiques et de Sciences Physiques (IMSP), has witnessed--indeed directly participated in--the entire saga. In his own words, "the ground breaking ceremony was a proud moment; now the real work begins."
"I was a young post doctorate student at ICTP in the mid 1980s," explains Ezin, "when Abdus Salam asked me if I would be interested in having ICTP support two or three students when I returned to the University of Benin's math department to resume my teaching responsibilities after a two-year hiatus in Trieste."
"I was honoured by Salam's offer but I responded that the creation of an independent centre, with its own research and training responsibilities separate from the university's, might have a greater long-term impact on the growth of mathematics in Benin. To my surprise, Salam quickly concurred and assigned US$25,000 in the ICTP's budget to launch the effort. Salam also helped convince the government of Benin to match ICTP's contribution." The result was the creation of IMSP.
"The initiative, while modest, did fulfil some of the goals both Salam and I had hoped for," says Ezin. "The first US$25,000 grant from ICTP, given in 1989, turned into an annual contribution that has continued to this day. Over the past decade, the money has enabled us to enrol five students every other year to participate in our advanced degree programmes in math and physics."
Additional periodic funding--for example, from Belgium, France and Germany--has allowed the institute to raise its enrolment at times to as many as 10 or 15 students. But it's ICTP's consistent year-to-year funding, derived from the Centre's Office of External Activities, that has given the Benin institute a firm foundation from which it has developed into one of the most respected institutions of its kind in Africa.
The institute was the first ICTP Affiliated Centre, an initiative that has since become the centrepiece of ICTP efforts to work jointly with universities and research centres in developing countries to establish reputable in-country training and research facilities serving local and regional scientific communities in a wide range of disciplines. These centres, based on agreements between ICTP and the host institutions, are found throughout the developing world.
Today, there are six ICTP Affiliated Centres in Africa: IMSP in Benin; a centre on semiconductors, solar cells and quantum physics in Ethiopia; laser centres in Ghana and Sudan; and atomic physics centres in Senegal and Cameroon. Each receives an annual grant of about US$25,000 from ICTP.
The first class of five students at IMSP in Benin, all of whom began in March 1989, attained their doctorates by 1994. All have since gone on to successful academic careers. Isso Ramadhani, who is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, now teaches at the University of Kinshasa, and Bernard Kamte, who is from Cameroon, teaches at the University of Toronto. Meanwhile, the institute's first three students from Benin have remained in their home country--Jean Bio Orou Chabi and Joël Tossa are employed at their alma mater and Taofick Adeleke at the Institut National d'Economie. The 25 plus students who have followed in their footsteps have achieved similar levels of success.
"We are not only pleased by our graduation rates, which
have been exceptionally high," explains Ezin, "but we
are proud that many of our graduates have continued to work in
Africa--often in their native countries--after attaining their
Ezin attributes this encouraging trend, which runs counter to the 'brain-drain' effect that has sapped the strength of many other like-minded initiatives, to the way in which his programme has been structured.
"Our doctorate programme," he explains, "has always followed the so-called 'sandwich' model: Students spend their first year or two at IMSP, then move on to a university in the North for a year or two, only to return to the University of Benin to complete their course work and thesis. This way, students never lose touch with IMSP. As a result, they are less likely to wind up as professors or researchers in institutions in the developed world."
IMSP works closely with a number of Northern universities and research centres to ensure that the goals of its 'sandwich' programme are met: for instance, in Belgium, the Université Libre de Bruxelles; in Canada, the University of Toronto; in France, the Université de Paris Sud in Orsay; in Germany, the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics; and in the United States, Florida State University. "All told," Ezin notes, "the institute's sandwich programme involves more than a dozen institutions in the developed world."
Overall, IMSP's track record of success has meant a great deal to the math and physics community in Africa, where advanced training and research facilities are in short supply and where many universities do not even have a single math teacher with a doctorate degree (see "Africa's Future Discounted by Math Crisis," News from ICTP, Summer 1998, p. 6-7).
Ezin and others who have been involved in the field for many years have always realised that the number of doctorates that institutes like his have been able to produce--some five Ph.D.s every other year--are no match for the magnitude of the math and physics crisis faced by Benin and other nations in Africa. "I don't want to minimise our contribution," says Ezin, "but the truth is our efforts have largely prevented a very bad situation from getting much worse. We've never had sufficient resources to make a great deal of progress. The best we've been able to do is to prevent additional backsliding."
That may change, however, now that the government of Benin has agreed to invest US$1 million for the expansion of IMSP. The new support represents such a large increase--the institute's current annual budget is just US$50,000--that, in effect, the allocation sets the stage for the creation of a new institute different not only in size but in scope from the facility that has preceded it.
"This substantial infusion of funding," Ezin notes, "should allow us to provide instruction for some 100 students each year, not five every other year, which is the current situation." To achieve this goal, Ezin anticipates that the number of faculty will eventually increase from seven to 20.
"As our resources and size grow, so will the breadth and depth of our curriculum," explains Ezin. "The institute plans to offer courses in differential geometry, statistical physics, functional analysis, control and game theory, and computer science. We also plan to eventually build exchange programmes with other math and physics institutions both in Africa and on other continents. In fact, I have had preliminary conversations with colleagues in Latin America that we hope will soon lead to some joint training and research activities."
IMSP construction sites
It's all part of an ambitious agenda that includes new classrooms, a library, cafeteria, and guesthouse. "The goal is to build a mini-ICTP-like facility designed primarily to serve the needs of young mathematicians and physicists in West Africa," says Ezin, who views what is happening "as an extension of Salam's vision, which could never be completely realised until governments in developing countries begin to invest in scientific research and training effectively and sustainably."
So, after decades of coaxing and cajoling by Salam, Ezin and dozens of others dedicated to the development of science in the South, the Institut de Mathématiques et de Sciences Physiques in Benin may soon emerge as an enduring symbol of their hard work and dedication-and, more importantly, as an institution that helps build a strong foundation in basic science that lifts the economic and social well-being of the entire region.
The Institute's Web page http://www.imsp-uac.org/
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