Africans going to outer space?
That’s the dream of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir who has called for the formation of an African space agency
Speaking to a regional conference of communications ministers in Khartoum, Bashir stated: "I'm calling for the biggest project, an African space agency. Africa must have its space agency. [That] "will liberate Africa from the technological domination [of the west].”
A document issued at the Khartoum conference noted that the proposed agency, to be called AfriSpace, would permit "cooperation among African states in space research and technology and their space applications.”
Citing that space exploration is currently dominated by a handful of countries, the report noted that "a common continental approach will allow the sharing of risks and costs and ensure the availability of skilled and sufficient human resources. It will also ensure a critical size of geographical area and population required in terms of the plan of action for some space applications."
Bashir is not the first African official to vocalize his endorsement of such an adventure. The Guardian newspaper of Britain noted that two years ago the African Union pondered such a space agency.
Since that time, African astronomers were given a tremendous gift when South Africa was chosen as one of the countries to share the location of the world’s most powerful telescope, the Square Kilometer Array. Satellite dishes have also been constructed in nine other African states.
Moreover, Nigeria, Algeria and Egypt already each have two satellites in orbit around the earth, while Angola has one.
Twenty years ago, African states created the Regional African Satellite Communication Organization (RASCOM), an intergovernmental commercial agency. By 2007, it had launched a pan-African telecommunications satellite.
Bashir would, however, appear to be a poor candidate as the face and voice of Africa’s future ambitious endeavors. Among other things, he is wanted the international criminal court on charges of having ordered war crimes in his country’s civil wars.
In addition, some critics question the need for a poor region like Africa to even consider such an expensive project as going into space.
Sarah Wild, a South African science journalist, told the Guardian: "South Africa took years to get its own space agency up and running. It takes time and money. Personally I think an African space agency is a bit of a pie in the sky idea. I'd be interested to see where they get the resources and skills."
She added: "Africa needs space projects but I think rather than the pomp and circumstance of an agency they should concentrate resources on projects that are already there."
Readers comments on South Africa’s News24 website also scoffed at the notion.
A reader named Asif Asmal wrote: “Rid the continent first of corruption, secondly feed the people, then we can talk.” Someone named Demi Davidson sarcastically noted: “If Africa had its own space agency then they could eject all [of] Africa's [murderers], thieves, drug lords, corrupt government officials into space forever. Whoopie, yes please!” And Eugene Muller soberly warned: “First solve your hunger and peace issues.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.