2020 In Review – Regional African Satellite Communication Organization

The Regional African Satellite Communication Organization (RASCOM) is an organization promising to provide telecommunication services, direct TV broadcast services and Internet access in rural areas of Africa. Under an agreement with RASCOM, RascomStar-QAF will implement RASCOM’s first fourteen communications satellite project. As part of the Space in Africa 2020 year in Review, we met with Mr Mamadou Sarr, the Managing Director of RASCOM, to discuss their activities for the year 2020. 

Kindly give us an overview of RASCOM operations and structure.  

The Regional African Satellite Communication Organization is a pan-African Organization of Communication by Satellite, created by the willingness of  Governments and of African States, and has been put in place in order to bridge the digital divide between the continent and the rest of the world. 

RASCOM Objectives 

In accordance with its Convention and its Operating Agreement, RASCOM was created within the framework of the African Union to achieve the following objectives: Ensure direct connectivity of African countries to support the consolidation of intra-African traffic; Extending services (access) to remote and underserved rural areas; Support all ICT services including TV and radio broadcasting services. 

The current operational satellite covers the entire African continent and provides C and Ku bands lease services. 

The comparative advantages of satellite and orbital position 2.9E 

  • Unique coverage of the entire African continent 
  • Connectivity with Southern and Western Europe 
  • The footprint of the global C-band on the continent 
  • 2 Ku footprints dedicated to Africa, with higher “PIRE” in rainy areas ∙ Cross-circle between C-band and Ku band  
  • 2 Ku-footprints dedicated to Africa. 

The governance structure of the organization is at three levels: The Assembly of Parties, the Board of Directors and the Executive Organ. RASCOM is further involved in sales and marketing activities. 

What has changed in the operations and structure of the organization since the launch of RASCOM-QAF1R in August  2010? 

  • Reorganization of the Executive Organ to ensure appropriate monitoring and monitoring of relations with RascomStar-QAF, technical support to the Executive Organ that will be responsible for technological monitoring and technical support in the design of the services. 
  • The renegotiation of the Execution Agreement dated June 2009 to align the interests of RASCOM and RascomStar-QAF.  
  • Control of Operations through RascomStar-QAF; Consideration of the RASCOM system in the implementation of TiC projects  (PAeN; E-Post; PIDA, etc…)  

What are the milestones you achieved in 2020? 

  • RASCOM transformation process carried out. 
  • Reorganization of the Executive Organ. 
  • Better involvement for better visibility of RSQ’s activities. 
  • Opening of RASCOM to Partnerships. 
  • MOU signed with Smart Africa to accompany them in their program.
  • The principle of the transfer of the Pan African E-network from Africa Union to RASCOM was adopted. 
  • Big corporates signed services contracts on RASCOM’s satellite and will commence operating next year the countries involved are Libya and Senegal. 
  • Partnership achieved for the profitability of RASCOM’s land asset. 

How would you say RASCOM has lived up to its founding expectations? 

RASCOM has made available a satellite in orbit covering the entire African continent useful for the public services of domestic and international telecommunications in Africa. The operational Pan-African system of RASCOM’s satellite is a solution to facilitate the opening up of the rural and isolated areas and to assure the interconnectivity between the networks of the telecommunication operators. 

What is left to be achieved?

Expanding the RASCOM system to the implementation of initiatives in ICT through the involvement of Universal Services Funds for the deployment of terrestrial facilities in order to use them by the telecommunications operators. Strengthening marketing activities for the clusters to better sell the remaining capacity especially in the southern part of Africa.  Recruit new members to acquire additional capital to finance new high-speed  HTS satellites. Further ensuring the follow-up of the Pan-African nature of the commercial activities of RascomStar-QAF, while acquiring more orbital positions for the next satellites and fulfilling the mission RASCOM was entrusted with.

Libyan Africa Investment Portfolio, Rascom and Thales Alenia Space founded RascomStar as a joint private venture. What is the current shareholding structure of RascomStar? 

RascomStar is the commercial entity operating RASCOM’s satellite. Its current shareholding structure is as follows: 63% for LAIP, 25% for RASCOM and 12% for Thales.

What informed the decision to move RascomStar Headquarters to Dubai? 

The Headquarters of RascomStar has always been in Mauritius with the office of the Managing Director in Dubai. The main office in Mauritius is closed, remaining a point of presence, regardless. The possibility to transfer the Headquarters in Cameroon, in Libya or in Côte d’Ivoire is being explored. This decision is due to the necessity to concentrate on African operational matters in an African country where we already have facilities to avoid additional non-useful costs. 

Is RASCOM planning to launch another satellite in the near future? 

RASCOM is open to partnerships which should necessarily lead in a short or medium-term to the launch of satellites. Specialists of telecommunications revealed that 4 or five (5) satellites are to be launched in order to meet the needs of the African continent in term of coverage and penetration. The launch of another satellite is a necessity and the orbital position at 2.9°  East of RASCOM is the only tone that covers entire Africa. This major competitive advantage makes RASCOM a potential strategic partner for the launch of satellites covering Africa. The program includes the launch of Satellite on a regional and sub-regional base. 

  • TERANGA Satellites for Ouest African sub-region 
  • AKWABA Satellites for Central Africa 
  • SAFAR Satellites for Sud-subregion and 
  • SALAM for Arabe Countries 

RASCOM will protect the intellectual property of these names exclusively for Africans. 

What are your expectations of the proposed African Space Agency and how do you think RASCOM will collaborate with the Agency to help realize the AU goals for space science and technology in Africa

  • The proposed African Space agency at his first stage is mainly focused on Earth Observation application.
  • Navigation and positioning Applications.  
  • Space Science and astronomy.
  • To assist in managing scarce resources, prevent disaster, Use of satellite image for agriculture. Use Remote sensing Technologies to help map-maker,  to give a precise position by geolocalisation. 
  • As Africa is facing major challenges in ensuring the provision of basic needs such as food, accommodation, education, healthy environment, etc.

Our expectations from this agency 

  • To enable the African continent to address those challenges, meet the  objectives of the AU agenda 2063, contribute to the implementation of  science technology and innovation strategy for Africa 
  • To provide an opportunity for Africa to exploit its natural resources to promote economic growth and improve the quality of life of the population. 
  • RASCOM is specialized in Satellite communication that covers a wide range of applications that include telephony data transmission, Internet access et  TV broadcast. 
  • RASCOM also is in charge of acquisition and securing suitable orbital position and frequencies for African countries Via Côte d’Ivoire Frequency Agencies (AIGF). 
  • As at the first stage, the ASA is developing the Earth Observation related application.  
  • RASCOM is the best partner to accompany the ASA program and together they can collaborate to facilitate African Continent to secure more Orbital slot and frequencies for low orbit and Geostationary Satellites. 
  • RASCOM as a major regional Satellite player in Africa and for African can also contribute to complement the asset of applications in the ASA program. 

What should we be expecting from RASCOM in 2021? 

  • Continuation of the project already in place by focusing on the part not yet marketed by RSQ. 
  • Active sales and marketing activities to obtain clients for the remaining C and  Ku capacities. 
  • Continuation of the project of value creation of RASCOM parent company,  for a new perspective of satellite development in relation to the economic context inter-current African.
  • Recruit new members for the acquisition of additional capital for the funding of new HTS satellites (Broadband). 
  • Development of existing assets, interconnections of all members, launches of new satellites). 
  • To raise awareness among signatory countries to define their internet needs in order to pool HTS satellite resources and reduce costs with economies of scale.  
  • To raise awareness among signatory countries to define their audiovisual contribution needs in order to pool satellite and TV broadcasting resources to reduce costs with economies of scale (example in the image of the ASBU  (Arab State Broadcasting Union). 
  • Creating and managing a mutualized African Universal Service Fund funded by Signatories through their regulatory authorities. 
  • Establish a mechanism to involve regulatory authorities in the RASCOM  Project to use RASCOM’s Universal Services Development Fund in African countries, particularly in rural and unserved areas. 
  • Build Partnerships to start satellites launch program.