Only a few of us know that after hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, the first useful information for the US government came from NI-SAT-1, a Nigerian satellite built by the Surrey Satellite Technology, a UK based company, and sent into orbit by Nigeria.
This little detail was a symptom for a greater involvement of some Sub-Saharan powers in what has been defined as the “African race for space”.
Who’s next in space?
Since early 2000 it was possible to assist to progressive involvement of some African countries in the development of their own space policy. In 2001 Nigeria founded its space agency NASDRA and in 2010 the South African counterpart SANSA was born. Nowadays, both send their own satellites into orbit and are planning to enforce their future projects.
Not only Nigeria and South Africa, but even Ghana, Kenya, Angola and other Sub-Saharan countries are on their way to creating their own space agencies, riding the moment of a rediscovered economic development. Sub-Saharan countries are working on the SKA, an important project of radio astronomy.
Furthermore, after five years of negotiations, the African Union has signed the “African Space Policy and Strategy”, a project considered the prelude for the institution of an African Space Agency patterned on the existing European Space Agency.
Funding and education
The development of a wide range of space policy implies massive investments from the national governments. It should be considered that the development of advanced technologies suitable for space exploration has a positive impact in the civilian sectors of agriculture and telecommunications. These technologies could be used for environmental purposes, searching for hidden water in the soil, or they can bring development of telecommunication across the countries.
Through investment in the technological hub, the involved countries are investing in the creation of ad hoc university courses in astrophysics and mechanics, in order to develop their a knowledge-based economy.
For these reasons the space race could bring benefits to the whole economy, and contributes to empowering the geopolitical status of these African countries.
The geopolitical implications
Nigeria and South Africa are silently battling to conquer the status of “space power” and they both know their technological development will benefit from cooperation from other countries, such as the USA and China.
International actors themselves are competing for the cooperation with Africa in the development of its space ambitions. During the last decades, African politics has seen the interference of Russia and EU as well as the intervention of the newly developed economy of China. These countries know the potential that Africa has in the progression of its own race for space and acknowledge that investing in its program could be a great investment for the future and a strong way for improving their geopolitical influence in the area.
In this way, the new African race for space seems to have a geopolitical impact that overwhelmed its ambition.