The African space industry had a history of relatively quiet, sporadic progress, but it is now blossoming into enormous growth; the industry is projected to grow over 40% in the next 5 years. “Africa provides immense business opportunities for the space industry – Africa is the new El Dorado for Space Business“; this is an extract from the Keynote address of Dr Tidiane Ouattara at the recently concluded Global Conference on Space for Emerging Countries that held at Marrakech in Morocco. Dr Ouattara is the GMES & Africa Coordinator and Space Science expert at the African Union Commission. In this interview with Dr Ouattara, he gave deeper insight into African space economy and how the continent is capitalizing on key projects like GMES & Africa to solve socio-economic challenges in the region.
Space in Africa: According to a recent study, the African Space Industry is currently worth about $7billion and is projected to be worth over $10billion in few years time; how do you think the continent could capitalize on this for socio-economic development?
Dr. Ouattara: Space offers a unique opportunity for Africa’s socio-economic development. It is one of the levers that will catalyze growth by providing an ideal platform to support the development of a knowledge economy. The investments in our burgeoning Space industry are already yielding enormous dividend in education, health agriculture, natural resource management, communication as well as peace and security. We have seen how progress in these areas contribute to wealth creation, equity and empowerment, especially among youth and women. But to maximize these benefits, we must push the frontiers of our potential by pooling resources to provide sustainable funding for Space activities. Adequate resources are imperative to build the necessary Space capabilities, technologies and infrastructure. We must also build, attract and retain a significant human resource of Space scientists and experts to drive innovation in the industry. In addition, we should develop policy and regulatory framework and create incentive environment that can facilitate the establishment of sustainable African space industry poles, creating thousands of jobs. All these actions should be better coordinated and integrated for efficient optimization of infrastructure, financial and human resources. This is how Space can contribute to addressing the essential needs of the African market and improving the continent’s economy as well as the quality of life of our people in a sustainable way. But the success of such enterprise will necessitate that all stakeholders including the Regional Economic Communities, the international partners as well as the regional, national and local actors work closely together.
Space in Africa: With the emerging business opportunities in the African Space Industry, what is the African Union doing to support local companies/institutions to capitalize on this opportunity?
Dr. Ouattara: We are currently witnessing the transformative role being played by the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security and Africa (GMES and Africa) in stimulating sustainable socio-economic development through the exploitation of the continent’s Earth Observation potential. This is an African Union programme introduced to support the implementation of the African Space Policy and Strategy. It is jointly funded (Euro 30 million) by the European Commission and provides funding for African EO and natural resource institutions to implement projects at the national, regional and continental levels. The programme’s existing first phase covers Marine and Coastal Areas as well as Water and Natural Resources.
It targets policy makers, businesses, academia, scientists, public and private sector operatives plus EO end users. They are engaged and mobilized through information sharing and awareness raising and benefit from training in EO services and product development. GMES and Africa covers the entire African continent and is making remarkable impact by working with institutions operating in a wide variety of livelihood support areas including forestry, fisheries, farming, meteorology, climate change and adaptation, and early warning. This being said, GMES & Africa has distributed Euro 17.5 million grant to 13 consortia including 72 institutions in 44 African countries. For GMES & Africa, it is mandatory that a consortium be made up of at least 5 national or regional institutions with at least one academic institution. And it is also mandatory for all consortia to contract out 20% of their received grant for services to be delivered by African private sector. These mandatory actions are very innovative ways in the implementation of the Earth Observation programme across Africa. As one can see, the clear objective is not only to strengthen and empower EO academia and private sector but also to encourage the collaboration between all stakeholders: private and public sectors, academia, NGOs, etc. Currently, AUC has finalized a survey on the EO private sector in Africa. The objective is to use the findings from this survey to develop policy and strategic instruments and mechanisms to strengthen the said private sector. Other similar studies will be undertaken with respect to Satellite Communication, Positioning & Navigation, and Astronomy & Space Science. This will allow the African Space Agency to develop appropriate and relevant programmes and activities accordingly.
Space in Africa: The GMES & Africa project have recorded great success in responding to African needs with respect to services in various sectors – How will the African Space Agency capitalize on this?
Dr. Ouattara: The African Space Agency (AfSA) is the governance body for the implementation of the African Space Policy and Strategy. While establishing the AfSA, the AUC has started the implementation of GMES & Africa. The AfSA will build on the success stories and lessons learnt from GMES & Africa with respect to the following outputs: Infrastructure and data, services delivery, training and awareness & outreach. The implementation model of GMES & Africa will inform the AfSA on how African institutions (private and private sectors, academia, NGOs, civil society and citizens) work together for a common goal in using space science and technology. As an African and Africa-led initiative, GMES and Africa is demonstrating to what extend space science and technology respond to the needs and priorities of the African continent.
The African ownership embodied in GMES and Africa is an opportunity for AfSA to harness the collective drive towards a vibrant and sustainable African Space industry. GMES and Africa has generated significant regional, continental and international partnerships that shall continue to support and bolster Africa’s Space sector. The endogenous knowledge, capacity, infrastructure, products and services engendered by GMES and Africa are lasting endowments to be exploited and utilized by the AfSA. In addition, AUC has signed with the European Union an agreement enabling free access to Copernicus data by African countries. And GMES & Africa is offering to Africans the opportunities to learn on the EO service delivery in using Copernicus data.
Space in Africa: The African Space Agency is rated as the next big thing in the global space industry due to its prospect; what should the world expect from the Agency?
Dr. Ouattara: The Agenda 2063 envisions an Africa determined to usher in a new era of peace, development and prosperity by assuming its rightful position in the global arena. This same mantra represents the continent’s aspirations in the global Space arena and the announcement of a host country for the African Space Agency is testimony to this. The Agency is indeed a big achievement in our drive to make an African outer space programme a reality. This is the body to take charge of the coordination and administration of space matters in the continent. Its advent is a statement that Africa is ready to be a responsible and competitive user of space for the benefit of its citizenry.
The Agency will, therefore, be the pivot for this transformative process by which we will strengthen existing space partnerships and forge new ones based on the principles of equity and shared responsibility. Africa is the New Eldorado for the space industry. But the landscape remains scattered. Moreover, numerous African countries do not have space agencies even if they have huge needs to use space products and services for their sustainable socio-economic development. The African Space Agency (AfSA) is an opportunity, through the Pan African space programme, to allow these countries to afford space science and technology products and services for the regional and national sustainable development. The AfSA is the governance body and the instrument the 55 African countries gave themselves to better coordinate and integrate the African Space segments (earth observation, satellite communication, positioning and navigation, astronomy & space science) for an Integrated, Prosperous and Peaceful Africa, meaning the ‘’Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want’’ of the African Union Commission.