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The Continental Approach to Space Activities: The African Space Policy and Strategy

The recognition that space activities, services and products play a central role in the sustainable social and economic development of states has led to a clear increase in the number of space actors, including developing countries, wishing to take advantage of space to address their needs and perform their public tasks.

The recognition that space activities, services and products play a central role in the sustainable social and economic development of states has led to a clear increase in the number of space actors, including developing countries, wishing to take advantage of space to address their needs and perform their public tasks. African countries are also taking part in this “second race to space” and several states in the African continent have already taken or are taking their first steps in outer space. This is the case of South Africa and Nigeria (which already have a relevant history in space and a structured approach to space activities), as well as of Kenya, Ghana and Angola, among others. But not only: for instance, even Cape Verde, an island country in the Atlantic Ocean slightly more than 1,500 square miles and with around 500,000 inhabitants, launched a tender in 2014 for the preparation of a space strategy.

That several African countries are interested in space activities is by no means unexpected and is fully aligned with worldwide trends in the space sector. But something more has been done in Africa: on January 2016, the African Union heads of state and government approved the African Space Policy and African Space Strategy, two documents that set the goals of the whole continent for outer space.

The space policy aims to create a regulatory environment that promotes and supports an African agenda and also ensures that Africa is a responsible user of outer space.

The space strategy, on its turn, establishes a set of strategic measures such as, among others, the promotion of programs and projects that foster intra-continental partnerships and the sharing of space experience, as well as the development of a strong space industry in Africa that responds to the needs of the continent. In addition, the strategy intends also to pursue a common regulatory framework for the continent and adopt a collaborative plan on the allocation and use of frequencies, two issues of utmost importance in the development of space activities.

The strategy sets one, five and 10 year outcomes, many of them highly ambitious, such as that, after the 10 year period, the continent should have a constellation of satellites designed and manufactured in Africa providing independent Earth observation satellite data to all African countries.

With the approval of the African Space Policy and African Space Strategy, the African Union urged member states to mobilize domestic resources for their implementation and tasked the African Union Space Working Group responsible for drafting the documents (chaired by South Africa and comprised of members from Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Cameroon and Namibia) with drafting the governance and implementation frameworks.

The success of the continental approach to outer space is very much dependent on a set of factors that the African Union needs to take into careful consideration: on one hand, it is important to guarantee that all African countries are aware of, and able to contribute to and benefit from, space activities. This will allow for a more sustainable African development, thus avoiding the “space divide” and “space-exclusion” of more underdeveloped countries, which not only are the ones that need more assistance in this area, but are also the ones that more urgently need space technologies and services.

In addition to addressing funding and sustainability challenges, an effective awareness campaign needs to be taken: because space activities and technologies benefit a wide range of sectors and areas under the responsibility of different authorities in each country, all of them need to be made aware and get involved in their country’s efforts for the African space programs.

The African Space Policy and Strategy are striking steps in the development of space activities and technology in Africa, but their success requires a strong commitment to answering the needs of the countries’ and in getting them involved. Still, whatever the future may bring, one thing is for sure: Africa is definitively on its pathway to space. VS