In an appointment letter signed by the Prime Minister who heads the country’s Space Science and Technology Council, the new DG and the deputy were mandated to commence their new role effective from 28 September 2020.
Mr Yilma will replace Dr Solomon Belay, the former DG who led the Institute to the launch of Ethiopia’s first satellite in December 2019; among other milestones including reaching an agreement with French space company ArianeGroup and European Investment Bank for the construction of satellite manufacturing, assembly, integration and testing (MAIT) facilities in Ethiopia.
On a call with Space in Africa, Dr Belay confirmed the government gave him an offer to join the Ministry of Innovation but his priority at the moment is to go on a vacation and take enough rest before deciding his next career move.
“I have spent the past years building Ethiopia’s space sector as the DG of ESSTI and contributing to regional space programs in East Africa. I am proud of starting from the beginning and all we have achieved from the establishment of ESSTI to making space sector the centre of attraction for government policy and investment. Now I look forward to being more involved in the African space programs and international engagements. I will continue to support the Office of Astronomy for Development (OAD) programs in East Africa with a regional office in Ethiopia and the second observatory in Lalibela.”
The Ethiopian Council of Ministers approved the establishment of ESSTI in October 2016 with the mandate to implement the country’s space strategy, make policy recommendations to the government and coordinate a national space program for the development and adoption of space technologies in Ethiopia. The government approved an official national space policy on 22 December 2018, providing a legal framework for the conduct of space-related activities within the country.
Commenting on his proudest achievements, Dr Belay mentioned that they have trained over 40 PhD and masters students in space science and engineering and grown ESSTI staff strength to over 150 employees. ESSTI successfully mobilized resources from government and international partners to actualize some significant projects including the launch of the country’s first satellite, planned launch of a nanosatellite in December, ongoing construction of the MAIT facilities and plans for the launch of a communications satellite in collaboration with China. Most importantly, ESSTI has retained a high level of government support for space programs in the country and continued to expand international partnerships.
The tenure of the new appointment is not fixed as its duration will depend on the performance of the appointees and the decision of the Space Science and Technology Council led by the Prime Minister.
Mr Abdissa Yilma and Dr Yeshurun Alemayehu have a challenging task ahead to led Ethiopia’s space ambitions as the East African country looks to develop indigenous capabilities in satellite systems, space science and astronomy and transform a growing population of space enthusiasts to productive human capacity.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.