Jonathan Mboyo Esole: an Einstein future for Africa?

Boubacar Diallo

PORTRAIT. Brilliant mathematics professor from Kinshasa, Next Einstein Fellow, Jonathan Mboyo Esole went through Boston and Harvard. And it’s not over.

This is the story of a little boy known for his development problems and his difficulties of expression in Kinshasa who became a professor of mathematics at Northeastern University in Boston, United States. “I was a different child from others. I had growth problems. I have even been declared clinically dead. I was unable to use my hands and speak properly. I could not pronounce my own name. I managed to do it after a great fight, with the help of my parents and the medical staff, “recalls Jonathan Mboyo Esole.

A physically complicated childhood
The quadra keeps the after-effects of this difficult period: he sometimes loses control of his hands. From these trials of his infancy, where he was subjected to mockery and jeering, he draws a great inner strength that allows him to overcome obstacles. “I won a victory over myself. My serious health problems have strengthened me. I took a challenge. I keep this attitude in everything I do in life. As soon as a problem arises, I do not tell myself that it’s impossible to solve, but that I have to tackle it. Failure is part of life, but you have to get up again to try to move forward and achieve excellence, “he observes.

Born in Kinshasa in 1977, Mboyo Esole was barely three years old when he and his family arrived in Belgium, where his father was preparing a doctoral thesis in anthropology. A few years later, he returned to his native country. He was then enrolled in Boboto College, a reputable Catholic school in Kinshasa, where he obtained his state diploma (the equivalent of a baccalaureate) with a very good mention.

Back in the 1990s in Belgium, where Mboyo Esole began studies at the Free University of Brussels, the one that had welcomed his father several years ago. Bachelor’s degree in Mathematical Sciences, Best Memorial Prize, Wiener-Anspach Scholarship, etc. He is successful in success. He then graduated from Advanced Studies in Mathematics in Cambridge, UK. This brilliant academic career in Europe is crowned with a doctoral thesis at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands.

Prestigious awards shoveled
His work and publications in scholarly journals hold the attention of the global scientific community. The Next Einstein Fellow prize is awarded to him and other researchers. This distinction rewards, every two years, young Africans who distinguish themselves in science and technology.

After a stint at Harvard, he was assigned a teaching position at Northeastern University in the same city of Boston. At Harvard, he started as a postdoctoral researcher in the physics department. After solving a major problem in string theory, he became Benjamin Peirce Fellow, a prestigious status awarded to leading mathematics researchers at this institution.

Twenty years ago, Northeastern University was not known. It was just an educational institution drowned in the multitude of institutions present on American soil. Today, Northeastern attracts talent, having significantly increased its research budget. Donors and sponsors take out their checkbooks. The university is thus expanding, giving a new touch to the Boston academic landscape.

“The city of Boston is a dream for a scientist, because it houses several high-level institutions: Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern University, and so on. Without having to fly, we can meet world leaders in several areas here in Boston, “he notes.

The link maintained with the country of origin, DR Congo
Mboyo Esole usually has busy days. Despite his infernal pace, he finds time to follow the news in the DRC where the presidential election continues to be postponed, reviving the tension that was already brewing.

“I am Congolese news with a mix of different feelings. I meet a lot of Congolese who do things on a volunteer basis for their country. With us, the problem is structural. There are dysfunctions in the state structures that do not necessarily prioritize the DRC. Yet, a country like Congo has the responsibility to be a lung for all Africa, culturally, scientifically, security, etc. The DRC does not play its role. It hurts Congo, but also all of Africa. This country must make peace with itself in order to redefine what can be called excellence, “he observes.

However, the mathematician intends to develop projects
“In Kinshasa, with colleagues, I would like to give the same courses that I give in the United States. They will receive the same training that is offered in the best universities elsewhere. I also think it is important that the development of scientific research is better ensured for young girls in the DRC. We are also trying to set up a group of people who have succeeded in the fields of science and technology to help one another to promote it throughout the Congolese territory. The call of the country is growing stronger. It sounds more and more in me. I had not always thought about it, “says Mboyo Esole.

Scientific research is developing more slowly in Africa
The young professor is astonished at the paucity of mathematics in African countries, which, he thinks, do not do much to give this discipline the importance it deserves.

“Mathematics is not yet playing its true role in the DRC and elsewhere in Africa. Most people in Congo do not even realize how important this discipline is at the heart of development. In all successful countries there is always a very good background in mathematics. It is an art that exists for its own beauty, a language used by other sciences such as physics, but also a tool for modeling the reality that surrounds us. A country that does not produce its quota of mathematicians hinders its own development and shoot itself in the foot, “says Mboyo Esole.

It’s a bulimic reading, a habit he has acquired in his tormented childhood. It feels like a fish in the water in the libraries. Apart from the works of mathematics that (almost) never leave him, he is devouring these days a book on the powerful kingdom Kongo which knew its apogee before the arrival of the colonizers. The kingdom encompassed parts of what has become Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Gabon.

As the winner of The Next Einstein Fellow, he is expected in Kigali, Rwanda, in March 2018. This will be an opportunity for him and the other winners of the award, to present research in several areas: renewable energy, nanomaterials , nanotechnology, food safety, regenerative medicine, etc.

Mboyo Esole, who is a recognized specialist in string theory, will take this opportunity to discuss with other scientists the implementation of new programs for Africa. Drawers contain several projects that touch this continent

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