It’s yours truly and I’m present to attempt to convince you that I understand the depth of a topic that I have never been interested in, but just sounds cool!
Today, we shall be dissecting the ins and outs of Africa’s Outer Space Strategy. For those of you who know or don’t know, the theme for ALAMAU 2020 is ( drumroll please ) ‘Advancing Integration for Mutual Prosperity’. It sounds like a mouthful, but before I lose you, we are discussing outer space! Fun right?
Now, the main aim of this post is to get you thinking ‘ Do African countries have Outer Space Strategies?’. If they do, ‘What do they look like?’ and finally the big question especially for individuals like me, ‘Why in the world should I care?’ as a delegate or otherwise.
To answer these, I introduce Mangaliso Ngcobo, the committee Chairperson of the African Commission on Science and Technology. Below is an excerpt from our interview with him.
Me: Please introduce yourself
Manga: My name is Mangaliso Ngcobo, I am from South Africa and I am the Chairperson of the African Commission on Science and Technology for the African Leadership Academy Model African Union 2020.
Me: So far, what should we know about space in Africa?
Manga: We should know that it is not just a sci-fi dream to have space programs on the continent. It is actually relevant; it exists and it is making the greatest impact on our generation. We will soon be able to see space programs on the African continent transform our geopolitics and people’s socio-economic realities.
For example, Ethiopia has recently launched a satellite that monitors crop rotation. Resorting to such breakthrough technologies has helped Ethiopia in ensuring their food security.
Me: As an African, why should a space program be important or relevant to me?
Manga: One, your phone. The closest thing to you, your best friend right now. The data you consume is probably the data from another country like the USA or Russia who have big satellites. By allowing African countries to have their own data providing capacity, we are able to get data for cheaper and more people will have the capacity to be connected to a global network. For instance, only 24% of Africans on the continent live within 25 kilometers of a place where they can get a signal. This means that less than 24% of Africans actually have access to the internet and as we know, it has become vital to our daily needs due to its various benefits. Another thing is that a large portion of your GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is probably pegged to space technology and may drastically fluctuate because of space technology.
As we speak, the oil deltas in Nigeria are being monitored by space technology. It has been helping the workers track poachers, and prevent theft from these mines by simply indicating the lifespan of a certain oil delta. Moreover, finding the 273 girls abducted by Boko Haram is just one example of the versatility of satellite technology as they have used it to monitor the activities of extremist factions within the country. Today we are able to declare safe zones, care for our people, and have less violent countries and happier citizens.
Me: In anticipation of ALAMAU, what questions should we have? What should we be thinking about?
Manga: Good question. I think that because space technology is very expensive, ranging anywhere from 290 million dollars to build one, nearly 500 million dollars to launch it, and upwards of 2 million dollars to maintain it, provide necessary data, radio, etc. Thus, we should be thinking of ways in which African countries can minimize these costs to allow for a bigger capacity of space technology. A potential consideration is the CubeSat, which was not invented by Stanford University and another university, I think Caltech. It is essentially a smaller module, not bigger than ten by ten centimeters and it is used by universities to improve research. Many of them are now also used in mainstream space technology and are much cheaper at $40,000.
Looking at initiatives like that, realizing their benefits and then utilizing them will help us move forward as an African continent. Also, we can encourage our little cousins, brothers, and sisters to aspire to pursue careers in space like I once did. My mother used to tell me that I should be a rocket scientist and for a long time, I wanted to be one, until I realized that I was not so great at science. I, therefore, stepped into the policy side, but if we can encourage little ones to be interested in space and have it become a mainstream topic, we could certainly increase traction and see some contincontinental wide impact.
Me: Is there anything we should be scared of? Any doomsday theory that the world is going to end?
Manga: A satellite falling out of space and crushing you. That is about as dangerous as it can get (laughs)
Me: Thank you for your time.
Manga: Thank you for having me.