In 2016, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister declared a new diplomatic initiative with African nations as one of his top priorities. “Israel is coming back to Africa, and Africa is returning to Israel,” said Mr Netanyahu. Israel’s most prominent involvement in the African space and satellite industry up till date is through SpaceCom. The Israeli-based company operates the AMOS satellite fleet with significant operations across Africa providing communications services.
Since the 1960s, Israel has established official ties with about 39 countries in Africa including economic and commercial relations, cultural and academic contacts, a variety of joint agricultural projects, medical assistance, professional training programs, and humanitarian aid in times of need. Israel has also followed with interest the process of political and economic integration in Africa and the creation of the African Union.
Space in Africa had a chat with Mr Avigdor ‘Avi’ Blasberger, the Director-General of the Israel Space Agency to understand Israel’s position on Africa regarding space and satellite industry.
The Ilan Ramon International Space Conference is an annual event held since 2005. For the first time, African leaders were invited to participate in the 15th edition, which held earlier in January. What inspired the invitation of African leaders for the 15th edition?
Our ambassador, Mr Leo Vinovezky (The ambassador of Israel to Cote d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso) who worked with the Israel Space Agency as a diplomat, initiated the invitation to strengthen our relationship with African countries. The Conference is a yearly tribute to our first Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. He perished in the Columbia tragedy coming back from space (2003). We had some delegates from Africa, and it turned out to be a great move.
How would you describe Israel’s relationship with Africa with regards to the space sector over the past decade?
I am sure that African countries in the future will be more involved in the space industry. Currently, there is not much, but we will be happy to collaborate with African countries regarding space. You are aware Israel is very developed in the space area, and we are glad to share ideas and knowledge with Africa.
We have seen some growing interest of Israeli companies in the African downstream space market. For Instance, Israeli satellite operator SpaceCom launched the Africa-focused Amos satellite aimed at African telecoms customers. Is Israel’s relationship with Africa in space purely commercial and business-driven, or are there diplomatic and development interests to it?
There is a commercial part which involves working on a commercial basis around communications and Earth observation that Israeli’s companies are working around. It also includes the development of imagers and the entire satellite applications area. Based on government, Israel will be happy to be more involved with agreements with African countries in regards to space.
Should we expect more Israeli presence in the African space market in the next decade, especially in the upstream segment?
I believe the African space market will grow in the next decade as it is growing all over the world. Africa will get better, and we will be happy to be more involved in this. Israel is willing to support in satellite technology development (communications and Earth observation), technology demonstration, knowledge sharing and capacity building.
We look at Africa in the space area as a region with massive potential for growth, and Israel is willing to be a part of the success story. The Israeli commercial space market is also open to African countries as well as others for business operations.
Currently valued at about USD 7.34 billion, the African space and satellite industry is estimated to grow over USD 10 billion by 2024 with the number of countries launching satellites rising to about 20 within the same period. The continent has enjoyed collaborations with regions such as Europe, China and Russia in the development of space programs and the use of satellite data for applications in various areas.
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