Closing Day of the 2023 NewSpace Africa Conference; Excerpts

The 2023 NewSpace Africa Conference commenced on April 25, 2023, and featured several high-level discussions highlighting the experiences and uptake of space innovation, technologies, and applications among different stakeholders [government agencies, commercial companies and academia] across the African space industry value chain. 

Notably, over the next four days, over 400 delegates from 54 countries across four continents converged at Sofitel Abidjan Hotel Ivoire, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The conference provided a unique opportunity for stakeholders to unite, enabling leaders in government, academia, the commercial sector, and investors to establish new business connections and relationships to advance the industry’s agenda.

Cross-section of participants at the conference.

As was the case with the first three days, the last day comprised high-level segments of keynote speeches, interactive sessions, panel discussions, B2B matchmaking, B2C matchmaking, dinner and unique networking opportunities.

The conference’s final day began with a panel discussion titled “Collaborating with Africa- the international organisations’ Perspective”, moderated by Mustapha Iderawumi, Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. The panel, which featured six international organisations, focused on their perspective regarding the opportunities, challenges, and benefits of collaborating with Africa.

Mustapha Iderawumi, Senior Analyst, Space in Africa (moderator); Alvin Alexander, President and CEO, Orion Applied Science & Technology, LLC; Andre Nonguierma, Chief of the Geospatial Information Management Section, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa; Selina Hayes, CEO, Hayes Group International; Giuseppe Borghi, Head of the Phi-Lab Division at the European Space Agency; Dr Guillaume Loonis-Quelen, Attorney at Law – Paris, registered with the Geneva Bar and Tetsuhito Fuse Associate Professor at Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech)

The panellists discussed the African space industry sectors and areas where collaborations are necessary, including health, education, agriculture, and technology, and explored how international organisations can support African development. They also covered the challenges global organisations face when collaborating with Africa, including cultural and institutional differences and the impact of political instability on development projects. Finally, the session will provide insights into building successful partnerships with African countries and stakeholders and the international community’s role in driving sustainable development in Africa.

For his part, Andre Nonguierma explained that collaborating with other regions and countries in the field of space technology can be a great way to advance Africa’s understanding of the universe and improve our ability to explore it as space technology transfer can involve sharing knowledge, skills, and resources across international borders to develop new space applications and technologies, leading to a win-win situation for all the participants. “To ensure that space technology transfer is done solidly, it is important to have a systematic approach involving collaboration at every process stage. This includes working closely with partners from other regions and countries from the initial conceptualisation phase to developing, testing, and deploying new space applications. In addition, it is important to have strong communication channels to ensure that all partners work towards the same goals and that any issues or concerns are promptly addressed. By working together collaboratively and systematically, we can make significant progress in space technology and explore the universe in new and exciting ways”, concluded Andre Nonguierma. 

Giuseppe Borghi also agreed that partnerships are essential for achieving common goals in the space industry. The challenges and opportunities presented by space exploration and development are global in scope and require collaboration and cooperation across continents and regions, highlighting that by working together, we can leverage our collective knowledge and expertise to develop innovative solutions and create an enabling environment for the space industry to thrive.

He also added that technology and innovation are critical tools for building partnerships and driving progress in the space industry. By leveraging technological advances and exploring new frontiers of innovation, we can create new opportunities for collaboration and foster a spirit of partnership and cooperation.

He submitted that “Africa is a fascinating region for space business, with a wealth of untapped potential and a growing interest in space exploration and development. By working together in a symbiotic relationship where both parties benefit, we can unlock this potential and drive innovation and progress in the space industry. I am optimistic about the possibilities for collaboration and partnership in the space industry and look forward to seeing what we can achieve together.”

In her remark, Hayes opined that risk is not limited to Africa and is present in any region or industry, including the space industry. However, she noted that It is essential to recognise that risk can also present opportunities for growth and innovation and that collaboration with local partners is vital to manage and mitigate risk effectively. In addition, she explained that attending events and conferences can be a great way to connect with potential partners and explore opportunities for collaboration. 

She added that “From an American perspective, it is important to ask questions upfront about the objectives, revenue model, and potential for profitability when considering doing business in Africa or any other region. By understanding the local market and working closely with local partners, it is possible to identify areas of need and develop solutions that can be both socially and economically impactful. For example, many potential applications and revenue models exist in the space industry, including satellite communications, Earth observation, etc. By working closely with local partners and leveraging their knowledge and expertise, it is possible to develop innovative solutions that can benefit both the local population and the wider global community.”

Tetsuito Fuse, while discussing the role of collaboration, highlighted one of Kyutech’s flagship programmes, the Joint Global Multi-Nation Birds Satellite Project (BIRDS project), a crucial capacity-building programme in small satellite development for African nations. He said the Birds project was initiated to bring space closer to emerging and developing countries by demonstrating that a 1U CubeSat can be built and operated successfully within 24 months. 

“Even for countries with limited experience with robust satellite design and planning, the BIRDS project aims to help emerging countries kickstart a sustainable and robust space programme with a minimum budget. Typically, the two-year period spanning the satellite’s development, construction, launch and operation engages three university students from each participating country. For example, Ghana through the All Nations University and Nigeria through the Federal University of Technology, Akure has benefitted from the BIRDS projects and has launched a 1U cubesat each. In addition, Uganda’s PearlAfricaSat-1 and Zimbabwe’s ZIMSAT-1 are the latest missions from the Birds Satellite project, launched in November 2022,” Fuse concluded.

The panel was immediately followed by a keynote address by Professor Kouadio Affian, Former Vice-President of Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, which discussed the need to revamp the space curricula in African academia.

Dr Taiwo Tejumola, Assistant Professor of Space Systems Engineering, International Space University (moderator)
Prof Paul Baki Professor of Physics, Technical University of Kenya;Professor Dibi N’Da Hyppolite Senior Lecturer, Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny (INP-HB);Prof Frédéric Ouattara Former Minister of Higher Education, Burkina Faso; Project Lead, BurkinaSat-1; Prof Kouame Koffi Fernand, Director, Academic and Pedagogical Affairs, Virtual University of Côte d’Ivoire; and Professor Jean Pitot, Associate Professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Co-founder, Aerospace Systems Research Institute.

According to Prof Baki, space curricula are not widely available in most African institutions, especially in some areas of space technology. Therefore, he asserted that revamping the curriculum is important, and it should involve input from all relevant stakeholders in the industry, especially by involving people with practical knowledge and experience to provide valuable insights and perspectives to help shape the space curriculum.

He also maintained that bridging the gap between practical knowledge and academia is essential and stated that a way to achieve this is by inviting people with Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) but with more practical knowledge and experience to participate in the curriculum development process. This can help ensure that the curriculum is designed to meet the needs of the industry while also providing students with practical skills and knowledge that they can apply in their future careers. Ultimately, revamping the space curriculum in Africa will help equip the next generation of space professionals with the necessary knowledge and skills to contribute to the growth and development of the space industry in Africa and beyond, Prof Baki concluded. 

In Professor Dibi’s remark, updating the space curriculum is a continuous process that requires adaptation to the latest technology and industry trends to avoid doing the same thing repeatedly and, instead, continuously improving and adapting the curriculum to meet the needs of the job market. He noted that an example of adapting the curriculum is establishing a university for remote sensing, which was created in response to the needs of the industry. The university adopted its study modules to align with the job market, and success stories from this can be found in the public domain. 

Prof Frédéric Ouattara also opined that it is widely observed that there is a need to revamp the training modules in the space ecosystem in Africa. To achieve this, Prof  Ouattara added that it is essential to design continental and sub-regional modules that consider African languages. “Scholarships can also be provided to support students pursuing space-related studies. By designing modules that reflect the unique needs and opportunities of the African continent, students will be able to graduate as African or sub-regional graduates, equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to the development of the African space industry,” he concluded. 

Prof. Kouame Koffi Fernand explained that the booming space economy had created new job opportunities while others have become obsolete. Therefore, he stressed that it is essential to adapt the training modules to meet the demands of new jobs in the space industry. He added that currently, there are limited universities in Africa offering space-related courses, and it is necessary to revamp the curriculum to train individuals to manage all space activities. Furthermore, he expressed that updating the space curriculum is critical because only a third of the countries in Africa have launched satellites and that by building capacity and designing curriculums that align with the needs of the satellite industry, Africa can meet the demands of this growing sector and develop the necessary expertise to launch and operate satellites effectively.

From his perspective, Professor Pitot expressed that the space industry represents a significant opportunity for future economies, and Africa must take advantage of this potential. Furthermore, he noted that Africa must pay attention to the use of space in accelerating economic growth, and it has thus become imperative to ensure that African students are equipped with the necessary infrastructure and human resources to succeed in the space industry.

The next panel, themed the “Role of Academia in the African space programme”, was moderated by Prof Lazarus Mustapha Ojigi, Executive Director of AFRIGIST, and explored the importance of academia in the growth of the African space ecosystem.

The panellist included Dr Barkawi Mansour, Founder and CEO of Drone Service Niger (moderator); Professor Lacina Coulibaly, Professor, School of Forestry at the University of Moncton, Canada; Gbele Ouattara Associate Professor, National Polytechnic Institute Félix Houphouët-Boigny; Prof. Kamal Labbassi, President, African Association of Remote Sensing of the Environment (AARSE); and Prof. Nana Ama Browne Klutse, Associate Professor of Physics, University of Ghana.

The panellist noted academia’s vital role in the African space programme, from developing curricula to conducting research and development, collaborating with industry players, and providing training programmes. According to them, by working closely with academia, African countries can build a robust and sustainable space industry that contributes to economic growth and development on the continent. They also agreed that universities and research institutes are essential parts of the African space ecosystem as they nurture and produce qualified personnel to participate in various sectors and have the necessary human capital to take charge of future projects within the African space industry. 

The next panel, tagged “Perspective from the next generation”, moderated by Ayooluwa Adetola, Programmes Associate, Space in Africa, examined the theoretical and practical ways to attract young Africans to the industry and to stimulate their growth in ways to avoid brain drain in the ecosystem.

Ayooluwa Adetola, Programmes Associate, Space in Africa (moderator)
Dr Marie Korsaga, Lecturer, Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo, Burkina Faso; Marie Brigitte Makuate, Founder, Geospatial Girls and Kids; Assefa Bethelhem Girma, Co-founder and CEO, Afrobots Engineering Ltd; Zahra Okba, Co-founder of AIOFAR; and Rachel Kumwenda Founder, Drone Link.

The discussion revolved around providing young Africans funding, infrastructure, and capacity-building opportunities to create a thriving space ecosystem. In addition, the panellists identified theoretical and practical approaches that could help attract young Africans to the space industry, such as networking programs, accelerators, incubators, paid and unpaid internships, and other incentives.

In addition, the speakers highlighted the need for government support to create an enabling environment for the space industry. For instance, the government can fund infrastructure and capacity-building initiatives that benefit young Africans seeking to enter the space industry. The panel also discussed the importance of private sector involvement in the industry, particularly in funding and providing mentoring programmes to help develop young talent. Finally, they emphasised the need for a pan-African approach to space development, with more collaboration and partnerships among African nations to drive the industry’s growth. This would also create a sense of ownership and shared responsibility, motivating young Africans to participate in the industry.

The last panel of the 2023 NewSpace Africa Conference titled “space climate change and disaster risk reduction” was moderated by Dr Mahaman Bachir Saley, Senior Scientific Officer, African Union Commission. The panel focused on how Africa can reduce the risk and loss due to extreme weather events by investing in technologies that support climate adaptation, which involves accurate and timely weather forecasts to any individual, business, or government.

Dr Mahaman Bachir Saley, Senior Scientific Officer, African Union Commission (moderator)
Dr Aboubakar Mambimba Ndjoungui, Deputy Director-General of the Gabonese Agency for Space Studies and Observations (AGEOS); Col Francis Ngabo, Chief Executive Officer, Rwanda Space Agency; Professor Kouadio Affian Former Vice-President, Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire; Ouattara Marie Antoinette Director of Cartography and Geographic Information Systems, Ministry of Planning and Development; and Côte d’Ivoire Professor Cheikh Mbow Director-General, Ecological Monitoring Center (CSE).

The panellist discussed the importance of investing in technologies that support climate adaptation in Africa to reduce the risk and loss due to extreme weather events, highlighting the need for accurate and timely weather forecasts to be available to any individual, business, or government. The panel acknowledged the challenges of such investments and how they can be mitigated to ensure success.

One of the key points raised during the panel was the importance of partnerships between governments, the private sector, and academia to develop solutions to address climate adaptation challenges. In their remarks, they noted that such collaborations could bring expertise from various fields, resulting in innovative solutions within the space ecosystem. Furthermore, the panel also discussed the need for African countries to take ownership of their weather data and invest in building the necessary infrastructure to gather and analyse this data.

Another important point raised during the discussion was the need for education and awareness campaigns to help communities understand the impact of climate change and how they can adapt to it, emphasising the importance of creating incentives for businesses to invest in climate adaptation technologies.

The discussion concluded with remarks regarding the insurance industry’s role in climate adaptation. The panellists noted how insurance companies could be crucial in managing risk related to extreme weather events. Insurance companies can provide financial protection to individuals and businesses against the impact of extreme weather events, encouraging investments in climate adaptation technologies.

The 2023 NewSpace Africa Conference ended on a high note with a befitting closing ceremony for an outstanding four-day event which saw representatives from about 200 institutions involved in the African space industry value chain. The closing ceremony was attended by government agencies, commercial companies, and academia representatives, who came together to reflect on the conference’s highlights and the way forward.

One of the major takeaways from the conference was the importance of collaboration between different stakeholders in the African space industry. Participants discussed the need for more public-private partnerships to drive innovation and investments in space technologies. They also emphasised the importance of involving academia in the development of space curricula to ensure that graduates are equipped with the necessary skills to meet the demands of the industry.

Another critical discussion centred on the role of space technologies in addressing some pressing challenges facing Africa, such as climate change and food security, health, education, and many more, by investing in technologies that support climate adaptation, including accurate and timely weather forecasting.

The closing ceremony was a fitting end to an informative and productive conference. Participants left with a deeper understanding of the African space industry’s opportunities and challenges and a renewed commitment to working together to drive innovation and progress in the African space arena.

Temidayo Oniosun, Managing Director, Space in Africa, giving the vote of thanks.