Africa is a continent with a massively diverse environment that is in constant threat of ecological decline, land degradation, water quality and poor public health, food insecurity, agricultural production decline, among other hazards. Earth Observation has the potential of alleviating these threats substantially. The various sectors involved in Earth Observation include the public sector (government ministries and departments, the private sector, NGOs, researchers- present in universities, colleges, national or regional centres – and communities.
The public sector dominates Earth Observation in Africa. Contracts, projects, and programs executed by the public sector have enjoyed influences through the involvement of international development partners like the European Space Agency (ESA), JICA, European Commission (EC), to mention but a few. They significantly promoted the development of the public sector by creating awareness and capacity development across Africa. The radical change on what Earth Observation technology has to offer is characterized by the efforts of some organizations like NASA’s Applied Science Program, JICA, and the European Space Agency (ESA) with continent-based activities (Tsehaie, 2020).
AfriGEOSS, an initiative of the African community, is “strengthening the African Space Policy and Strategy to advance the uptake and use of Earth-Observation for decision making in Africa through the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS)” (Barbara, 2017). Moreover, some networks in Africa, such as the African Association of Remote Sensing of the Environment (AARSE), Environmental Information Systems Africa (EIS-AFRICA), Mapping Africa for Africa, and University Network for Disaster Risk Reduction in Africa (UNEDRA) have been promoting the advancement of Earth Observation through publicity, training, communication and coordination of research, education and applications collaboration.
Academic institutions are participating and contributing to EO development in Africa through about ninety identified institutions across twenty-eight countries in the continent. Sustainability-focused universities and colleges in Africa are involved in teaching, applied research, and are dedicated to building expertise for the advancement of EO. From undergraduate to postgraduate levels, 23% of the universities offer degree programs on EO/Remote Sensing and Geo-information. But most of the universities are not well equipped, and lack capacities to increase their EO activities (Nakweya, 2018). Also, some of them lack adequate instructors, investment from authorities and still use obsolete curricula and facilities (Kufoniyi, 2006) compared to their counterparts in developed countries. This reveals the need for the development of academic institutions to support capacity development in EO excellently.
The private sector has grown over the years, with most private companies operating in the West, East and Southern regions of Africa. The EO related businesses of the African private sector are focused on Downstream/ GIS services, consultancy, value-added services and other relevant activities. With an employment rate of about 3,482 people in 143 EO companies identified (as at 2019), the companies have contributed immensely to economic, social and technological advancement in Africa (Tsehaie, 2020). About 98% of the companies as of 2019 are registered by African SMEs (Tsehaie, 2020). However, the development of the private sector is still limited in some countries due to unfavourable policy and legal restrictions imposed by the government.
Considering the impact of the space agency sector, EO technology in Africa has been progressing in the generation of high and medium resolution images from indigenous technologies base. Thirty-eight satellites have been launched into orbit by eleven African countries, namely, Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Sudan, with three launched collaboratively by several African countries. This brings the total satellites launched so far to forty-one.
Satellites in some African countries have contributed to EO internationally. The Nigerian satellite was the first to track and send back pictures of the east coast of Hurricane Katrina that occurred in the US (Idem). It also aided workers after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami through its images.
The continent is steadily awakening to harnessing the benefits that space-based EO and Geo-Information Science technology has to offer. With the rapid increase in the deployment of satellites across African countries, there is a dire need for the four sectors outlined above to collaborate effectively, to maximize the potential of EO in Africa. This will significantly improve job creation, contribute to poverty alleviation, manage natural and environmental disaster and improve the livelihood of the continent’s population.