The use of satellite technology is a vital element of Africa’s information and communications strategy as the globe moves towards the 4th industrial revolution. In this light, a data-sharing centre established through a shared satellite framework will be vital in disseminating valuable satellite information to the African continent to service its developmental needs.
Speaking to the General Director at Management Office of the Angolan Space Program, Space in Africa uncovers the utilities of satellite data in the African context and the intended prospects for a sub-regional Shared Satellite Framework by the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Satellite service dependency is high; nonetheless, these services are often beyond the reach of most SADC countries. They play a substantial role in enhancing communications, broadcasting, navigation, meteorology as well as in the management of natural and environmental resources. To take full advantage of these benefits, whether commercially or in the interests of sustainable development, will require a predictable programme for the region, which is long overdue.
Realising the urgent need for the region to respond to developments in satellite technology and impending consequences, SADC ministers for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) urged all member states to establish a Committee for Satellite Experts to develop the SADC Shared Satellite Framework as a solution. The policy framework focuses on integrated development of satellite technology and its usage within the SADC region. It intends to provide for the development of operational services in the areas of broadcasting, communications and navigations, amongst others.
The fast adoption of digital services, and the explosion in mobile consumption, has driven investors into Africa in what can only be termed as a ‘data rush’ to capitalise on the opportunities of a data centre boom. Presently, South Africa is the continent’s largest data centre market, with Nigeria following closely behind, providing stepping stones for the data-sharing platform to widen in coming years, not only regionally but across the entire continent.
The common question is why such an initiative is necessary? Bearing in mind that a space-faring nation is one which holds the ability to launch and operate a satellite, at the close of 2019 only eleven African States possessed such capacity, including most recently, Ethiopia, which launched its first satellite in December of 2019. Other countries with satellite competency include Algeria, Angola, Ghana, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Sudan. These demographics show a concentration of satellite capacity in predominantly North, West and East Africa. However, the SADC region only has two satellite operators: South Africa and Angola. It is clear then that there exists a need to fill the technological gaps through cross-jurisdictional collaboration. This project aligns with the vision of the Outer Space Treaty (OST), which “reaffirms the importance of international cooperation in the field of activities in the peaceful exploration and use of outer space.”
International cooperation as envisaged by the OST necessarily requires collaboration amongst various stakeholders whom will be the beneficiaries of outer space activities as echoed in Article 1 of the Treaty which describes outer space as the province of all humankind. Therefore, government and non-governmental entities, private and public players, and even citizens will be required in the consultative and operational process, most importantly, when it comes to funding the project. It has become a favoured trend for governments to form strategic partnerships with private entities to finance space projects. These are known as Public-Private Partnerships (PPP’s) which may span different sectors or even include the International Telecommunications Union, as is the case with the SADC satellite project, with which entity various consultative meetings have already been held. To address any further technological deficits, Member States are recommended to pursue specialised training and active participation in global satellite events to widen the scope for vital skills transfer.
Regional Coordination and Collaboration
Noticing the satellite resource constraints, particularly in the SADC region, as well as the need to avoid duplication and promote complementarity, the success of the SADC Regional Satellite Programme requires strong regional coordination by all SADC members. Again, we can turn to the OST’s preamble provisions which “reaffirms the importance of developing the rule of law in this new human endeavour.” One recommendation would be the strengthening of such a programme through a legal mechanism that is binding and enforceable on all member states. It may even be worthwhile to draft a satellite code of conduct to be adopted into the existing SADC protocol, which enshrines the aims of the Community by providing Codes of Procedure and Practises on various issues, as agreed by the Member States. A protocol is a legally binding document committed Member States to the objectives and the specific procedures stated within it. This will be vital in ensuring a long-term and viable programme, as sustainability is fundamental to any project involving investment and an expectation for returns.
The Space Protocol will need to codify procedures aimed towards a concerted effort in strengthening human capacity, pooling financial resources, establishing strategic partnerships and setting up appropriate technology platforms. Commenting on this, the Director-General noted that the Strategic Implementation of the Programme requires one year (short term), five years (intermediate) and ten years (long-term) projected milestones agreement between the Member States.
To this end, at the core of the project is the funding model that will bring about the establishment of the programme. The Director-General comments on the need for a co-funding principle wherein all Member States will be required to contribute in equal proportion towards any of the Programmes activities. Furthermore, any Member State wishing to participate in the delivery of the shared programme shall submit a proposal to the Secretariat demonstrating the level of preparedness in doing so and the extent of their contribution. They shall also designate a national entity that will be considered the point of contact and perform the project obligations.
Member States may participate in the programme by contributing their technical competence and skills by making available, when necessary, any information or infrastructure in their possession or located in its territory, particularly in the fields of safety and security about climate change and natural disaster management. This shall be done by ensuring the efficient and obstruction-free access and use of in-situ data as well as cooperating with the Secretariat to improve the availability of data required by the programme.
Data sharing is a critical use of information technologies to enable wide-spread use of earth observation data. In many areas of applications, satellite data is utilised to improve planning, development and productivity, thereby yielding a significant contribution to the region’s socio-economic development. Conclusively, the task at hand is providing complementary expansion options to national space programs through the Shared Satellite Framework. Africa is at an inflexion point, and we expect to see an explosion in the growth of demand for hosting capacity in national and supranational owned data centres across the continent. The main aims of the proposed framework will be to establish a coordinated, effective, innovative and inclusive SADC driven satellite programme by the end of 2020; launch a shared SADC satellite by 2027, and to build regional capacity in satellite technology.