Africa is increasingly interested in the space industry, which appears to be an effective tool for development but also for the fight against the jihadist groups that plague the continent.
Côte d’Ivoire, which has just hosted the international conference “NewSpace Africa”, organized by the African Union (AU), announced the creation of its space agency and the launch of the first Ivorian nanosatellite by 2024. In mid-April, Kenya saw its first operational satellite put into orbit by a rocket from the company SpaceX which took off from California, in the United States. These countries thus follow the pioneers of the continent which are South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Egypt, the first country to have sent a satellite into space in 1998.
According to the AU space program coordinator, Tidiane Ouattara, “about fifteen African countries have a space agency” And “all have at least one institution that works with at least one space-related service”. Created in 2016, the African space program operates from the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, and in 2018 adopted the statutes for the creation of an African space agency to be based in Cairo. “African states have realized that space tools are an opportunity” to respond to crucial issues, explains Tidiane Ouattara.
Track the movements of armed groups
Space is, for example, “the best tool today for the fight against terrorism”he specifies, because satellite observations make it possible to follow the movements of armed groups. Jihadism is destabilizing several African states. Groups linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) have claimed thousands of lives in the Sahel for at least ten years, but are also rampant in Somalia and Mozambique.
The space industry can also benefit agriculture, “pillar of development” of the continent, according to Mamadou Sarr, director of the African Regional Organization for Satellite Communication (Rascom). According to the UN, 48% of Africa’s population makes a living from it and the continent has 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB), which notes that“by 2050”it will be necessary “feed 9 billion people”.
Satellite observation would optimize the exploitation of these lands by providing information on the parts of the fields to be cultivated and would allow farmers to make a “estimate of their production” years in advance to “position on the international market”says Tidiane Ouattara. “This is what the United States and Canada are doing with wheat”, he said. To improve Africa’s connectivity, especially in rural areas, the undersea cables installed around the continent are not enough, while “Satellites cover larger areas than cables”underlines Mamadou Sarr.
Finally, satellite images can also be used to study water quality and identify vessels responsible for overfishing on African coasts.
Nanotechnology and small satellites
If the efficiency of the space industry is proven, the lack of financial means still slows down African States, which represent the majority of the 46 least developed countries in the world, according to the UN. Yet, thanks to nanotechnology and small satellites, “space is no longer expensive, not at all”says Tidiane Ouattara; “made by engineers in universities”their production cost is between 50,000 and 100,000 dollars.
Investing in space is not only accessible, it is also profitable. According to an AU study carried out in 2019, the space market on the continent will bring in 20 billion dollars in 2024, but will benefit foreign companies holding the means of communication. “Africans consume a lot of space products and we are more than a billionsays Tidiane Ouattara. People use satellite communication everywhere, through cell phones, television, radio, telemedicine. » Companies also enrich themselves by selling satellite data to African states that lack it, but “only provide us with what they want” and sometimes “at exorbitant prices”continues the expert.
“The Africa World”
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“Africa must not once again become a new area of conquest”, affirmed for his part the Ivorian Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Adama Diawara, during the “NewSpace Africa” meeting. He emphasizes that in addition to investment, the issue of “regulations”, “often vague or non-existent” on the continent, creating “uncertainty for companies seeking to develop projects”.