Importance of Non-governmental Institutions in the Implementation of the African Space Policy & Strategy

During the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the formation of the African Union in May 2013, African Heads of State and Government signed the 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration. It symbolized the re-dedication of Africa to the “attainment of the Pan African Vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena. Agenda 2063 is the concrete manifestation of how the continent intends to achieve this vision within 50 years, from 2013 to 2063”.

This declaration culminated in the Agenda 2063. One of the flagship programs of the Agenda 2063 is the African Space Policy. The policy is anchored on  “Strengthening Africa’s use of outer space to bolster development in critical sectors such as agriculture, disaster management, remote sensing, climate forecast, banking and finance, defence and security.” This policy resolve led to the adoption of the African Space Policy and Strategy, as the first of the concrete steps towards realizing an African Space Agency.

The policy focuses on mobilizing the continent for institutional and capacity development towards achieving the four pillars of space technology, namely; Earth Observation (EO), Navigation & Positioning, Satellite Communication, and Space Science & Astronomy for socio-economic benefits. This article focuses on how Non-Governmental Institutions play an essential role in the execution of these goals.

Non-Governmental Institutions are institutions that are not government-owned. They include Private firms in the space sector, private schools and research institutes. The realization and execution of the Outer Space Program requires a certain focus and will that governments cannot provide. This is only natural because national governments have to attend to the structural problems still plaguing most African nations. It is arguable that a working indigenous space sector would play an important role in the alleviation of these underlying problems; however, it would seem that these problems are urgent and need immediate attention.

Nonetheless, this shift in focus and priority creates a chasm that can quickly be filled by purpose-created and driven private firms. Because these firms and companies deal with space issues, they are the best fit to seal the chasm consequent to national governments’ distracted focus. The ailing political will of several governments is propped up by the need to make a profit nature of these private firms.

Furthermore, the relative stability of private firms, especially companies with perpetual succession and unalterable object clauses in their memorandum of association, provide a fix to the bane of political instability, which, according to the Space-Strategy mentioned above, constitutes a block to the execution of the Outer Space Program. This potential for a sudden change in Africa causes a problem fixable by the relatively more stable mechanism of companies in the space sector. It is not difficult to perceive the importance of these non-governmental institutions in this regard.

Additionally, the Space Strategy realizes the lack of innovation in delivering relevant space services and products as one more of the threats facing the execution of the program. This is because it is evident that innovation is not any government’s strong suit. The capacity to innovate is directly related to the ability to make a profit as well as to outwit competitors. It is thus an essential skill in most private companies and firms. This innovative ability, it could be argued, played a considerable part in SpaceX’s mastery of the reusable rockets, which has significantly reduced the cost of space travel. This same innovation will equally positively affect the fruition of Africa’s Outer Space goals.

In Africa, the education system faces many challenges, especially concerning public and foundational educational institutions. According to the International Finance Corporation, Governments are relying increasingly on the private sector to help fulfil public policy objectives in education, as well as to regulate providers appropriately, integrate them with the public system, and increase access to students at all income levels. This is also why, according to Lisa Vives, New York-based Africa American Institute, in its State of Education in Africa report, private institutions are increasingly stepping in to educate children who lack access to an education and to fill the gaps in a country’s public education system”.

This issue, the Space Strategy admits, is one of the weaknesses of the program. It posits that inadequate core skills in several areas of space science may be one of the challenges the continent has to deal with to achieve its space goals.

It is only natural that the inculcation of these core space science skills primarily occurs in the early stages of a young person’s educational sojourn.  However, African governments do not yet have the funding to provide for the schools and other learning institutes capable of ensuring the effective and efficient inculcation of these skills. Thus, this critical duty falls on the private sector. The private sector has taken the initiative as regards the provision of quality education in Africa, as can be deduced from the referenced articles. Thus, it is no gainsaying that the private educational sector would be significant in availing critical space science skills to learners in the continent.

In conclusion, the private sector arguably has one of the most critical functions concerning the success of Africa’s Space Programs. However, this is not to disregard the necessity of public-private partnership in the realization of the goal to mobilize the continent to develop the necessary institutions and capacities to utilize the four pillars of space technology, for socio-economic benefits.