Lost in Space?

Today a communique from the African Union (AU) stated they wish to establish an African Space Agency in partnership with the International Telecommunications Union. At the same time the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has revealed a $100 billion funding gap over five years for its ambitious infrastructure programme. Up to 2015, SADC wants to raise $100 billion to finance projects in the energy sector ($47 billion) and surface transport infrastructure requires up to $26 billion.  Investment in ports and inland waterways needs $18 billion and the ICT, postal, meteorology and water infrastructure is budgeted at $9 billion. So is the Space Agency a reality?

Well an African Space Agency is not just pie in the sky it seems. On August 4th the African regional communications satellite, called Rascom-QAF1R, was launched on the Ariane 5 rocket without a hitch. The launch was co-funded by the Libya Africa Investment Fund and more than forty African telecoms operators.

Covering mainly Sub-Saharan Africa, the satellite, whose construction was entrusted in 1999 to Alcatel-Alenia (now Thales-Alenia), will connect African villages to the internet without having to install expensive networks. Twenty-eight African countries have already committed to renting its services.

The AU communique on on the African Space Agency stated that Ministers agreed to work jointly with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and that the AU would coordinate its aims with the International Telecommunications Union.

Meanwhile back at SADC, the Secretariat admits that little infrastructure progress has been made in pushing forward the development of Transfrontier Parks in the region, the North-South Corridor, the Zimbabwe-Zambia-Botswana-Namibia inter-connector, and the Kunene cross-border water project. Critics point out that SADC’s infrastructure development agenda suffers from an over-reliance on donor funding and international finance.

More work is clearly need on convincing private sector investors, having clear rules for public private partnerships and strengthening inter-government will-power. Infrastructure investment needs to be fast-tracked with a creative mixture of private and foreign direct investment alongside focused political leadership.