Six things happening for the first time in Africa in 2015 -- and there will be more

Tobacco fuelled planes, higher than El-Nino temperatures, and "Yankee soccer" arrives on the continent.

NEW Years don’t always bring new things, but sometimes they do. It is early in the year, but there are a few events that are scheduled to happen in Africa for the first time. More will happen as the year plods along, but a few are already penciled in. 

Here are six of them:

Democratic elections in Burkina Faso

After the ousting of long-ruling president Blaise Compaore in October 2014, this year’s election scheduled for November in Burkina Faso is significant, as it is the first time in the country’s history that the Burkinabé will get to choose their president. 

The country has never had a competitive, democratic election – from independence president Maurice Yameogo, all the country’s leaders have taken power by military coup, and in subsequent elections, the incumbent’s access to state resources and the media has meant that polls have neither been free nor fair.

A number of  conference firsts

This year sees several conferences being held in Africa for the first time. Durban, South Africa hosts the 21st World Route Development Forum (World Routes) from 20th -22nd September 2015. This marks the first time in its history that the event has been held in Africa.

World Routes is the global meeting place for airlines, airports, tourism boards and government stakeholders provides a unique opportunity for a destination to showcase its airport, its city and its country to the air service decision-makers of the world.  

Cape Town plays host to the 19th World Congress on Disaster and Emergency Medicine (WCDEM), slotted for 21-24 April 2015, with the theme Creating Capacity, Building Resilience. Africa’s disaster preparedness has been called “woefully inadequate”, and lack of response capacity means that the aftermath of disasters is many times worse than the direct impact of the disaster itself.

And in East Africa, a combined regional conference on green architecture is scheduled for 19-20th March in Arusha, Tanzania, the first time such a conference is being held in the region. 

The East Africa Green Building Conference is expected to bring together architects, engineers, contractors and government to work around a transition to energy-efficient buildings, with an aim to integrate green building as a mainstream aspect of city planning in urban centres in East Africa.

Possibly the warmest year on record

Last year is on track to be one of the world’s hottest, if not the hottest year on record so far, and 2015 is even more likely to break the record. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the changes are largely due to high global sea surface temperatures, which are predicted to likely remain above normal until the end of this year. 

The high temperatures contributed to heavy rainfall and floods in many countries and extreme drought in others in 2014. WMO says that much of Africa has been unusually warm, with heatwaves recorded in South Africa last January, and this year’s hot season could be even more unbearable.

In fact, 2015 could surpass the previous record of 1998,which was set during a strong El Niño.

An experimental Ebola vaccine

An experimental Ebola vaccines could be ready for use in African countries badly hit by the deadly virus early 2015, as several drug researchers work to roll out vaccines in the next few months.

In Kenya a vaccine – dubbed VSV Ebola - is being developed by the Kenya Medical Research Institute, and human trials have already begun. Similar trials are underway in n the US, Germany, Switzerland and Gabon; the World Health Organisation (WHO) is focusing on two vaccines: one made by British company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and the other by US group NewLink Genetics. 

Tobacco-fuelled planes

In December, South African farmers were set to harvest their first crop of energy-rich tobacco plants, an important step towards using the plants to make sustainable aviation biofuel .

South African Airways (SAA) and American aeroplane maker Boeing, along with biofuels companies SkyNRG and Sunchem SA, also officially launched Project Solaris, their collaborative effort to develop an aviation biofuel supply chain using a new hybrid tobacco plant called Solaris.

Oil plant’s seeds are set to be converted into bio-jet fuel in 2015, with a test flight by SAA as soon as practicable.The move is set to lower the fuel costs of SAA, which contributed between 39% and 41% of the state-owned airline’s total operating costs.

An “American feel” to the African Cup of Nations:

For the first time in its history, the 2015 African Cup of Nations will have a North American feel to it. Four African players from the US’ Major League Soccer (MLS) have been selected to Africa’s top international tournament, which is slated to kick off in Equatorial Guinea on January 16th.

Goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi (Algeria/Philadelphia Union) defenders Ambroise Oyongo (Cameroon/New York Red Bulls) and Samuel Inkoom (Ghana/Houston Dynamo,) and forward David Accam (Ghana/ Chicago Fire) have all been selected for their nation’s respective rosters.

The US is often seen as the place where stars in Europe go to hang their boots as their illustrious careers come to an end – David Beckham and Thierry Henry played their swansong at LA Galaxy, last week Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard (age 34) announced he would be transferring to the Los Angeles club to see out his illustrious career.

But MLS’ popularity and quality of play is growing too: Ghana and Houston Dynamo defender Samuel Inkoom says that American soccer shouldn’t be underrated. “It is about time we dropped the low esteem people have tagged the MLS with because Yankee soccer is really coming of age,” he is quoted to have said.

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