The AfSA Act; a Step in the Right Direction

The African Space Agency (AfSA) Act is the first and only piece of legislation governing space activities in continental Africa. Passed by the African Union in 2017, the Act was adopted and entered into force on the 28th of January 2018. The Act, amongst other things, establishes the African Space Agency, a body to “promote and coordinate the implementation of the African space policy and strategy and conduct activities that exploit space technologies and applications for sustainable development and improvement of the welfare of African citizens”.

The AfSA Act recognises several weaknesses and threats to Africa’s space programme, as enunciated by the African space strategy. The most important of these weaknesses is the lack of a governance structure to “coordinate and manage continental-level space activities.” In a bid to fix this and several other issues, the Act establishes the African Space Agency. 

The Extent to which AfSA Act Implements the African Space Strategy

It is important to recognize that the Act is an establishing enactment. It merely establishes an Agency – the African Space Agency, providing for its functions and objectives, amongst other things. Thus, it is for the Agency to serve as a continental supervisor, providing and ensuring an enabling environment for the development of the African space programme. In other words, the act merely establishes an agency whose duty it shall be to oversee the advancement of Africa’s space sector, both nationally and continentally, vis a vis the African Space Strategy.
Consequently, the question becomes whether AfSA Act establishes the Agency with functions and objectives, which ensures the Agency can implement the spirit of the African Space Strategy. 

In a bid to address a lack of governance structure to coordinate and manage continental-level space activities, the Strategy commits to establishing a “continental space programme that can promote programmes and projects that foster intra-continental partnerships … to bolster the capacity of member states that wish to pursue national space programmes.” One thing is clear, and it is the desire for a continental space programme.
According to this, the Act provides in Article 5 that the agency shall “promote strategic intra-continental partnerships”, “foster regional coordination and collaboration”, and “engage member states in space-related activities and research in Africa with the aim of fostering cooperation and avoiding duplication of efforts.” These provisions espouse the Act’s dedication to creating an Africa-wide platform that shall prioritise Intra-African partnerships and collaborations.
Additionally, in keeping up with the mandate of a continental programme, the enactment establishes a system, which includes the Agency, national and international institutions, to coordinate a “continent-wide regulatory framework” for the space activities on the continent. 

Furthermore, paragraph F of the Act’s 5th Article provides that the agency shall coordinate the development of a critical mass of African capacities in space science, technology and innovation through appropriate education and training programme. This laudable objective reflects a putting into effect of the strategy’s dedication to “establish human capacity development programmes that attract the young student population into a postgraduate pipeline that primarily serves the requirements of an indigenous space sector and the broader requirements for high-end skills in the changing socio-economic landscape”. While the act merely charges the Agency to develop a critical mass of African capacities through human capacity development programmes, it is evidently a push in the right direction.

Significantly, the act does not pretend to be oblivious to the fact that not all African countries share the same level of capabilities in pursuing space activities due to economic constraints. Thus, the Agency is tasked with supporting member states (and Regional Economic Communities – RECs) in building their space programmes, critical infrastructure while also facilitating access to space resources and services.
AfSA Act – in recognition of Africa’s socio-economic opportunities and challenges – charges the Agency to ensure that its programmes will play a critical role in improving Africa’s economy and the quality of life of Africans.

Who Makes the Cut?

There are clear beneficiaries of the Act. AfSA Act identifies national and regional space agencies and programmes as the driving force of a successful continental space programme. This is accentuated by the Act’s emphatic reference to them. However, therein lies the drawbacks of the legislation.

The enactment comes off as creating an Agency that is rather too Africa-centric. Admittedly, it is expected that an enactment to create an African Space Agency focuses on Africa. Nonetheless, like other continents – and perhaps even more than other continents – it can not isolate itself in the global village it exists in. It is pertinent to create a framework through which Africa can benefit from advancement in space science and tech outside the continent. In other words, despite the need to focus on Africa, Africa will also benefit by opening itself to the world while maintaining an Africa-first mentality.

Furthermore, the AfSA Act does not refer much to the private sector, whether in Africa or outside. This mirrors the African Space Strategy’s coyness concerning Private Sector Participation (PSP). Mention is only made of the private sector in the Strategy as a funding source for projects to be undertaken. The importance of PSP in the African space sector – or any sector – can hardly be overstated. Thus, any framework regarding Africa’s space programme must include provisions for it.

Additionally, the Act does not address that not all African nations share the same enthusiasm for space activities. In instances like this, reluctance from such nations to partake in the space activities organized or coordinated by the Agency may result in an uneven developmental pattern within the continent. To avoid this phenomenon, it is up to the Agency to create a mechanism to address the issue.

Despite the above drawbacks, the act delicately and perfectly balances the thin line between the developing the continent’s space programmes and the need to develop the space programmes within the continent.
The Africa Space Agency Act does more than establish an African Space Agency; it establishes a strongly planted foot in Africa’s reach for the stars. It represents Africa’s first practical step towards the advancement of the African space programme. It is a huge step in the right direction.