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Africa steps up efforts to tap space technology

(By Sifelani Tsiko) AFRICA needs to take practical steps to adopt space technology for earth observation, telecommunications and advancing space science to promote socio-economic development on the continent, a top African Union Commission official says.

Dr Tidiane Ouattara, an African Union space science expert, told participants at the third information session of Global Monitoring for Environment and Security and Africa (GMES and Africa), which was held in Harare, Zimbabwe, recently, that countries on the continent have now recognised the usefulness of satellites for earth observation in Africa’s sustainable development.

“It is a veritable fact that space science and technology are an important enabler for the implementation of any Science and Technology Strategy. And this is true for the African Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy (STISA 2024),” he said.

“Africa has woken up to the potential and usefulness of space technology.

The manifold benefits that will accrue to Africa from a formal space sector will surely assist us to translate the vision for a united, prosperous continent in peace with itself into reality.”

Experts say earth observation satellites can collect data on areas of importance to a country’s economy and well-being such as agriculture, natural disasters, water resources, wildlife, forests and coastal marine resources.

For instance, in some countries in Africa satellites have been used to monitor the oil resources, election monitoring, providing crucial information about deforestation, wildlife poaching, monitoring floods and other natural disasters.

In another case, South Africa has harnessed earth observation satellite capability to do human settlement mapping.

This, experts say, has enabled it to monitor urbanisation by examining the growth of settlements and the transformation of housing.

It provides useful data for service delivery projects and town planning.

GMES and Africa, supported by the both the African and the European Commissions to the tune of euro 30 million, is an initiative that seeks to improve the exploitation of earth observation data, technologies and services in support of sustainable development in Africa.

A total of 28 representatives drawn from Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, AU, civil society, EU, academia, independent research institutions and the private sector attended the Harare information session to train members from the SADC grouping on the guidelines and procedures of accessing the fund to help build capacity and develop a consortia that will spearhead efforts to harness space technology for sustainable development.

“The Harare meeting is a crucial step for the SADC region and members are being trained on how to prepare proposals as a consortium to attract the funds driven by our own regional priorities,” said Rungano Karimanzira, head of projects technology transfer in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education

“We want our experts in the region to be able to collect and analyse data on earth observation for use by policy makers in our thrust towards realising Africa’s 2063 Agenda. The training we are getting is critical for us to effectively access the funds guided by the AU Commission manuals on procurement.”

Dr Ouattara said GMES and Africa sought to create five hubs in each of the continents sub –regions in the North, Central, East, West and South.

“Zimbabwe is hosting the third information session and we have already conducted others in Kigali (Rwanda, February 2017) and another in Dakar (Senegal, February 2017),” he said.

“In April we will be in Cairo for the North African cluster and in Libreville for the Central African cluster. We want our members to fully understand how they can apply for the funds. We want to strengthen our collaboration with the EU.”

The initiatives highlighted the strategic role that earth observation can play in supporting national, regional and continental policies for sustainable socio-economic development and how cooperation between Africa and Europe in the development of GMES and Africa can be increased.

Dr Ouattara said Africa needs to speed up the setting up of an institutional architecture to ensure the coordination of GMES and Africa initiative and the Group on Earth Observation projects.

SADC Climate Service Centre Regional Coordinator, Bradwell Garanganga, said space technologies was important for providing disaster monitoring and post-disaster assessment mechanism for the region.

“This initiative will help reduce the negative impacts from climate induced hazards such as droughts, floods and wildfires. It will also contribute to better environmental and agricultural management through evidence based decision-making,” he said.

“The project is all about providing reliable information, near real time status updates and trends on various parameter required for informed decision making and to facilitate planning, policy development frameworks the highest level.

“By making use of earth observations from satellites the project will cover every corner of the region and provide environmental data several times per day on issues of priority to the region – agriculture, drought, floods and wildfires.”

He said space technologies and particularly earth observation applications, could contribute to the achievement of the strategic development goals – providing information, useful in a wide range of areas like food security, management of natural resources, desertification, climate monitoring and humanitarian aid among others.

Regionally, at the African Union level and globally at the UN level, the international community developed various action plans, which, among other things, recommended that improving access to accurate and reliable satellite information be prioritised.

Dr Ouattara said the development of space technologies fitted into Africa’s 2063 agenda, a continental vision which is: “An integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”

Africa recently approved Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy (STISA 2024) as an important intervention for using science, technology and innovation to respond to the key priorities of the continent and realise Africa’s aspirations.

In January 2016, African Union Heads of State and Government adopted the African Space Policy supported by the African Space Strategy that envisions an African Space Programme that is user-focused, competitive, efficient and innovative.

The thematic focus areas of the African Space Strategy are namely earth observation, navigation and positioning, satellite communications, and space science and astronomy.

After adopting the African Space Policy and Strategy, the African leaders urged the African Union Commission to continue developing an implementation plan and a governance structure, as well as to ensure that the continent fully participates in space activities.

It is envisaged that training and funding support will go a long way to ensure African countries are better equipped to deal with environmental challenges such as flood, drought and related challenges.

However, experts say for these programmes to be effective, much will depend on the individual country’s capability to launch domestic satellite systems,

Closer collaboration and setting up consortiums will help the speed up the process towards a true continental space alliance, experts say.

“There is no question satellites and space exploration have socioeconomic benefits. Satellites can help find mineral resources. Satellites helped uncover an underground aquifer in Kenya’s driest region. The plethora of possible benefits is combined with other crucial hard to quantify advantages.

These projects inspire youth, increase national pride and advance education,” wrote Scott Firsing, a research fellow on international relations at South Africa’s Monash University in an online publication. _“But, space endeavours require capital. And for most African countries, capital is a limited commodity.”_-Zimpapers Syndication