Can Less Developed Countries Catch up With the African Union’s 2063 Space Agenda?

Agenda 2063 is a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the African continent over the next 50 years. It builds on and seeks to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development. Less Developed Countries (LDCs) in this context, are countries that do not yet possess the technological wherewithal to follow the trends being set by the continent as well as other more developed countries in the continent, towards the realization of the goals contained in the Agenda 2063. LDCs are important because the uniform development of countries in Africa is the best and perhaps the only way to achieve the aforementioned goals. 

This article will be discussed in the context of three critical points, namely;

  1. The Africa Union Agenda 2063 and its relation to outer space development
  2. The importance of EO to the future of the continent vis-à-vis outside competition from superpowers
  3. How Least  Developed Countries will affect the Agenda and EO progress on the continent.

The Africa Union Agenda 2063 and its Relation to Outer Space Development

The Agenda 2063 strategic framework is set out to achieve development especially in a target set of fields. One of these is the African Outer Space sector. This decision is hinged on Africa’s realization of the fact that outer space is the next new frontier, and its immense opportunities will go a long way to boosting the rapid development of the continent.  In an effort to actualize this vision, the African Union Heads of State and Government during their Twenty-Sixth Ordinary Session on 31 January 2016 in Addis Ababa, adopted the African Space Policy and Strategy as the first of among concrete steps towards realizing an African Outer Space Programme.

The policy, amongst other things, prioritizes the development of a sustainable and vibrant indigenous space industry that promotes and responds to the needs of the African continent, with necessary regard to the needs of Less Developed Countries (LDCs). To do this, the African Space Policy and Strategy outlines the pillars of Space Technology and sets out goals to aid the continent in developing the necessary institutions and capacities to utilize these pillars for socio-economic benefits which would improve the quality of lives and create wealth for Africans as stated in the Agenda 2063. This of necessity includes Less Developed Countries (LDCs). These pillars include; Earth Observation (EO), Navigation & Positioning, Satellite Communication, and Space Science & Astronomy.

Importance of EO to the Future of Africa  vis-à-vis Outside Competition from Superpowers

Earth observation from space generally has shown its growing scientific, social, economic and political importance by contributing to a better understanding of the Earth and its environment, by supporting a wide range of applications and by providing essential data for numerous purposes. For example, Earth observation systems can be harnessed, through satellites and other tools, to improve environmental monitoring, agricultural productivity, climate change mitigation, food security, health and disaster risk reduction. In Africa, earth observation can be used to monitor and bolster the continent’s expansive animal reserves. Its application in this sector will undoubtedly lead to better management of Game Reserves, with some bigger than whole countries. Accordingly, the capabilities deriving from EO, to monitor urbanization by examining the growth of settlements, as is already being done in South Africa, will radically improve government policies as they relate to the provision of housing, and better management of the population, amongst others.

In a bid to tap into the vast benefits of the EO sector, the African space policy defines specific policy goals which it must achieve to bolster a sustainable and vibrant indigenous space and EO industry that promotes and responds to the needs of the African continent.

These goals include

  • Creating an EO industrial capability;
  • Promoting public-private partnerships with respect to EO;
  • Promoting EO R&D-led industrial development; and
  • Using indigenous EO technologies, products and services

It is no gainsaying that the success of the foregoing will directly, and in no small measure amplify the present and observable benefits of EO in Africa.

It should be noted that these goals necessitate that the development of the African EO sector is carried and influenced mostly – if not wholly – by indigenous EO technologies, products and services. The reason is not far-fetched. Holistic development of the African EO sector will be incomplete if the development is not influenced by indigenous products.

How Least Developed Countries Will Affect Agenda 2063 and EO Progress in Africa 

One of the trite lessons from history is that development is never uniform, and certain places will develop faster than other places,  not necessarily due to the fault of the lagging parties. This phenomenon is observable in small-scale settings, such as states and provinces, and in large scale settings, such as in continents. In such an instance, it is not rare for the weaker regions to be left behind which does not also signify their fate permanently these may exemplify the circumstances surrounding Africa’s quest for the utilization of the immense benefits to be enjoyed from a flourishing indigenous EO sector, and the fate of Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

In the African space sector, especially as regards the capacity to develop and maintain EO services, there are countries, such as Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt, amongst others, that score high in this regard, and there are African countries that score lower. As at December 2019, only four countries have launched at least five satellites into space, being Egypt, with 9, South Africa, 8, Algeria, and Nigeria with 6 apiece. Furthermore, only 11 countries have launched at least 1 satellite. This means that only about 7% of African countries have national satellites capabilities. While satellite capabilities are not all that is to EO capacity, they represent the imbalance that presently pervades Africa’s EO sector. This does not, however, mean that Africa’s Agenda 2063, as regards the EO sector is unachievable.

To assert that the continental disparity in EO capability is not a challenge to the fruition of Agenda 2063 is to bask in a savannah of denial. This continental disparity will no doubt render the realization of the goal difficult. This is because to achieve the goal, there has to be a certain uniformity amongst the capacities of African nations. With some nations much higher on the ladder than others, and if that status quo persists with neglect, any development observed will be superficial at best.

Once again, this is not to posit that the goal is unachievable, instead, its realization has to be earned. The process of attaining this goal has been set out in the specific policy goals outlined in the African Space Policy The policy goal ’promoting public-private partnerships with respect to EO’ and ’using indigenous EO technologies, products and services’ express the need for collaboration between public and private sectors, and necessarily among stakeholders in the continent. The use of indigenous products and services necessitates a partnership, commercial or otherwise, between service providers and end-users, in spite of the observable disparities in the economic wherewithal of the two. 

It is exciting to note that the momentum for partnership has already been set in motion, as 92% of private EO and Geospatial companies have expressed eagerness to be members of continental associations. The willingness of African governments to integrate the goals of the African Space Policy within national policies, as well as an overwhelming adherence to the said goals will also work to ensure symmetric development of the African EO sector.

It is, therefore, safe to assert that this and other equally important trends, within the African EO industry, augur particularly well for the realization of Agenda 2063, and for the development of a sustainable and vibrant indigenous space industry that promotes and responds to the needs of the African continent.