Towards an Independent African Space Program

In October 2021, Professor Mohammed Belhocine was elected as Commissioner for Education, Science, Technology and Innovation of the African Union and began his tenure in January 2022. He held various positions in Algeria, at the Faculty of Medicine and the Ministry of Health, before joining the international civil service in 1997. He was the Director at the Division of Non-Communicable Diseases at the WHO Regional Office for Africa (in Harare, then in Brazzaville); he was also WHO Representative in Nigeria and Tanzania. He was UN System Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Tunisia, from 2009 to 2013 and returned to duty at the WHO from June 2015 to February 2016. Space in Africa had a chat with Prof Belhocine at the sidelines of the kick-off event for the GMES & Africa phase 2 project in Cotonou, Benin Republic.

According to Prof Belhocine, “Space plays a critical role in our day-to-day activities, and Earth observation is an important component of this. It gives you a wealth of knowledge that was not available years ago, and mastering technologies related to space requires a lot of skills, including soft skills and hard skills.

On his vision and ambition for his tenure, he said, “my vision is that Africa will move to master the technologies. We should not just remain users of the technologies but be able to develop these technologies. Our ambition is that in 10-15 years, Africa will become one of the continents where you will find spatial power”.

“Any meaningful cooperation should be working to its own disappearance. If I want to help you, I won’t keep you working under me all your life. You have to learn how to work. Maybe now I can help you do other things. While we maintain relationships with several international partners, we aim to capitalize on these relationships to grow into independence”, he continued.

Professor Mohammed Belhocine at the GMES and Africa Phase 2 Kick-Off ceremony in Cotonou, Benin Republic. Image © Space in Africa.

When asked about the African Space Agency and the role the GMES and Africa project is playing, he said “The continuation of GMES and Africa project among other programs is that it will be fit into the new agency. The agency will be the federation of all agencies in space in Africa”. On the Pan African University for Space Science, he said, “we are currently working out the elements with South Africa, the host country. We aim to build our autonomy. We already have many infrastructures, so this training institution would be managing them”. On the international level, the Commissioner emphasized that the agency recently signed several cooperation agreements on Earth observation and is currently exploring other avenues of space cooperation with other partners.

According to the Commissioner, the African Space Agency is expected to become operational in the first quarter of 2023.

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