November 2020 issue:
Africa’s space community leaders want the rest of the world to stop referring to the continent as a homogenous, “developing” market. They do not want to be seen as a singular entity waiting for global commercial satellite service providers to swoop in and bring economic prosperity to a homogenous group of impoverished citizens. Africa is composed of 55 vastly different countries, each charting its own unique course to a space-enabled economy, built on a wide set of needs and priorities that change over time. The continent is, however, unified in its effort to cultivate an innovative and independently thriving space economy thanks to the emergence of a continental space agency that will share resources and foster collaboration between nations.
Industry experts outside of Africa are largely misinformed about the continent’s progress in space, says Dr. Tidiane Ouattara, GMES Coordinator and Space Science Expert at the African Union Commission. This is why he and the Commission attach a lot of importance to information sharing — not only on space matters, but on the continent’s integration, development and cooperation agenda as a whole.
“One common misconception among foreign space industry experts is to view the current Africa as a traditional dependent continent,” says Dr. Ouattara. “Things have long changed, and Africa now sits on international space formulation committees and has a guiding compass driven by its own priorities. Foreign experts often come to Africa and work on a project for a few years in a single country and leave thinking they know everything about the continent’s economic and environmental needs. They don’t.”
As part of her research, Dr. Rathnasabapathy has been creating a first-of-its-kind database of African start-ups that are utilizing space technologies in key vertical sectors including agriculture, healthcare, transportation, and financial technology (FinTech), which prominently features satellite connectivity. “FinTech’s early roots in mobile money has grown rapidly to now include a range of financial services, and disrupting the financial services market as Africa embraces digital technology to drive efficiency,” says Dr. Rathnasabapathy. “As 5G satellite network operators provide the delivery of IoT [Internet of Things]-services globally, this technology adoption has the potential to see African countries to leapfrog other nations.”