Will Africa ever own her share of space?
By: Othieno Joseph
Source: Daily Monitor
Over the years, space exploration has yielded diverse interests globally.
Now scientists endeavour to bring to earth new findings about the
outer space and its untapped potential, which potential has given rise
to a debate and scrabble for the real estate in the sky.
At the centre of the debate is the geostationary orbit located 35, 900
kilometres directly over the Equator.
Because the rotational period here equals that of the earth, objects
appear stationary over a fixed point when viewed from the earth?s
This property makes this geosynchronous space home to artificial
satellites, which to date have found a myriad uses ranging from
communication, weather forecasting and navigation to espionage, remote
sensing and space sporting and tourism by the developed countries.
Equator, the imaginary line dividing the earth equally into the
northern and southern hemispheres and which passes through six African
nations, is already at the centre of a global scramble. Once again,
Africa will be caught at crossroads just as it happened during the
First and Second World Wars.
Like any natural resource and one up for grabs, the equatorial space
territory is limited and therefore can?t accommodate the feet of every
nation that wants to leave an imprint.
Now, the lack of accompanying rules on such a valuable resource is a
recipe for conflict and space analysts fear that it might trigger the
next World War.
The writing is on the on the wall as China is embroiled in a space
conflict with the US. Actually, the competition for the geostatic
space isn?t a new phenomenon.
It was envisioned in 1967 and a treaty signed which, in summary, said
that outer space isn?t subject to national appropriation by claim of
As if in protest, nine out of the 12 states lying on the equator
(Gabon and Somalia weren?t represented) in 1976 held a conference in
Bogota, Colombia, and came up with another declaration that authorised
them to exercise national sovereignty over the arcs of the
However, they cannot enforce this claim due to lack of financial and
technical know-how, weakness that will certainly give colonial- era
style land-grabs a replay in the space.
The stage is already set because not a single equatorial country in
Africa has a satellite to its name, logically locking them out of the
global outer space ownership debate.
This is why Kenyans and Ethiopians cheered their long distance runners
in the Beijing Olympics via a borrowed infrastructure.
In the current information society, communication is a valued global
activity and one that Africa has gobbled up in earnest.
Almost all African countries have gone, e-governance, e-commerce, e-
everything, but on a weak ?foreign? and enslaving foundation by
putting their much proclaimed sovereignty at the mercy of their
Currently over 80 per cent of Internet communication in Africa is
routed through satellite Internet, yet only six out of the 54
countries that make up the continent have their own artificial
satellites in space. Of the 3,275 (as of June 2008) artificial
satellites 10 are from African countries.
The satellite Internet connectivity is relatively expensive
considering that most of the countries are poor. High band width fibre
optic cable would have been an economical alternative but this is an
innovation yet to reach many African countries, as retrogressive
politics stand in the way to its use.
A timely example is the East African Submarine System, a project
sponsored by World Bank and African Development Bank.
Upon its completion it is expected to link South Africa, Mozambique,
Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti.
Dr Othieno is freelance science journalist