China-Africa Space Cooperation To Boost Comprehensive Development

Talking about space and Africa, Zambia stands out because of an incredible story. As early as 1964, a Zambian teacher named Edward Nkoloso famously vowed to help his country to beat America to become the first country to put a man on the moon, and then go to Mars. Despite his passion to launch a rocket that would send 12 astronauts, a space girl and cats to the moon, Nkoloso’s dream never came to fruition. Through his Zambian Space Academy, Nkoloso’s team of Zambian astronauts, whom he called “Afronauts,” underwent strenuous training, but it all came to nought because the United Nations wouldn’t give him the $700 million he needed to fund the space programme.  

Sixty years later, Zambia’s space dream is still alive. While announcing the creation of a 20-member technical steering committee tasked to develop the National Space Science Programme of Zambia, Minister of Science and Technology Felix Mutati said, “The goal for the next development plan is that Zambia must launch a satellite with which we will be able to address our challenges in agriculture, land use, health and energy, among others, which will put the country at a different pace. For everything that we do, launching a satellite becomes the overarching goal.”  

“I expect nothing but hard work from the committee in order for us as a country to meet our targets, as this is a very important agenda by the government towards fostering science, technology and innovation development in the country,” Mutati stated, adding that it was imperative for the country to have its own satellite because the current situation where the country borrows satellites was limiting access to data.  

ICT experts say it’s high time for Zambia to secure its own satellite that will boost the country’s telecommunications, and enhance technology for weather mapping and remote sensing. This will strengthen national sovereignty in all facets of communications and ensure sustainable development through the establishment of an efficient and secure communication network. 

In line with the resolutions adopted at the COP26 on climate change mitigation, it is certainly in the interest of the nation that climate change is dealt with and having a satellite is the most crucial component of that. “Having a satellite will go a long way in obtaining timely data to assist decision-making. This would be backed by the development of a science policy,” said Stephen Simukanga, director general of the Higher Education Authority in Zambia. 

Local environmentalist Kagosi Mwamulowe also believes that it’s high time for Zambia to step up to that level of technology to deal with climate change. 

“Having our own satellite will help to access precise data to enhance smart agricultural practices through real-time weather updates, and to improve our environment. Since we are using borrowed technology, anything can happen that will limit our access to data from other satellites,” Mwamulowe told ChinAfrica

China-Africa cooperation 

Space cooperation with Africa is an important part of the Belt and Road Initiative, which is supporting rapid infrastructure construction in developing countries. China is collaborating with African countries to craft workable space programmes in a bid to advance their developmental agendas. “We have seen fruitful results of satellite launches, space infrastructure, as well as sharing of satellite resources. African people are determined to explore the space; hence, we have also provided high-quality training for African researchers,” Hu Changchun, head of Chinese mission to the African Union, said recently. Climate change, environmental monitoring and disaster management are the major areas of China-Africa space collaboration.  

According to the 2023 African Space Industry Annual Report, the African space economy is projected to grow by 16.16 percent to $22.64 billion by 2026. With a remarkable spurt in the African space economy in 2022, the industry is on track to reach this target. However, space analysts say that as of 2022, only 13 African countries have satellites.  

Satellite communication is essential to bridge the connectivity gap on the continent. China launched Nigeria’s first communications satellite in 2007, and launched Nigeria’s second one in 2011. China also launched Algeria’s first communication satellite in 2017. In 2018, Tunisia became the site of the first ground receiving station outside of China for its BeiDou Satellite Navigation System. China has also helped Ethiopia and Sudan to launch their first satellites in 2019. 

Andrew Kaniki, a Lusaka-based space enthusiast, is of the view that with China’s advanced know-how in space technology, it is ideal for Zambia to partner with China to establish its own state-of-the-art satellite, and help the government to deliver quality education, communication and health services in real time, even to the most remote parts of the country thanks to the satellite coverage.  

Space Exploration Helps Sustainable Development 

Space science, technology and data can directly or indirectly contribute to the realisation of every aspect of sustainable development.  

Space applications such as Earth observation and geolocation play important roles in supporting development. Space-based services and technologies help people to grasp climate change, and manage disasters. Technologies like weather forecasting, remote sensing, global positioning systems, satellite television and communications systems, as well as wider scientific fields such as astronomy and Earth sciences all rely on space science and technology, and provide valuable information for policy decisions. Countries around the world, rich and poor alike, benefit from these applications, according to information available on a United Nations agency website.  

Research in space technologies can have spillover effects in other areas: space technologies designed for space operations can be redesigned for applications on Earth, while investing in space research and education can contribute to bringing scientific knowledge to more people, as well as creating new opportunities for innovation and infrastructure, according to experts cited on the website.  

Space technologies are crucial for achieving sustainable development in Africa, and are directly linked to the aspirations of AU’s Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, a strategic framework for the continent’s socio-economic transformation over the next 50 years.

African Times has published this article in partnership with ChinAfrica Magazine.



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