How should Kenya embrace space-based technology? — I

In this post, I will explore several approaches Kenya can opt for to fully integrate space-based technology in its national developmental agenda. As outlined in the post on Space Missions, Kenya as a User is presently at the bottom of the space technology capability hierarchy pyramid. Consequently, Kenya must chart a path that will guarantee an expeditious ascending of the pyramid in a prudent and entrepreneurial manner.  Ascending the space technology capability hierarchy is essentially what constitutes the integration of a space technology in a given country. Embracing space technology must hence be appreciated as principally a sequentially-structured and gradually process. This is akin to a baby learning to crawl first, then walk and finally run.

It is crucial to delineate the crucible for space policy and funding which forms the genesis of embracing space technology. In order to scrutinize the potential approaches Kenya can take to adopt space technology, we shall base the nomenclature of the broad classification segments on geopolitical definitions. I choose this approach because it clearly defines and segregates the main stakeholders (i.e. beneficiaries and benefactors) involved in the space technology venture. Further relevance and advantage of this approach will become clearer as we delve deeper into this analysis.  Therefore, the following three main geopolitical orientations may form a basis to guide Kenya on how embrace space technology:

1.   Continental      2.   Regional      3.   National

1. Continental

In a continental formulation, Kenya’s embracing of space technology will be articulated and based on a blue print conceived from a continent-wide perspective. The space agenda and priorities would be arrived at in collaboration with other African countries under the auspices of a common continental body most likely the African Union (AU).

The developmental priorities of each member state will have to be synchronized with those of other countries through consensus building mechanisms before a common goal is pursued.  As a result, inter-governmental bureaucracy, vested national interests, mistrusts, vastly varying technological and fiscal abilities, political posturing etc, are likely to fetter this approach.  Moreover, this approach would lead to uneven penetration of space technology among the member countries and decisions on where to host the agency’s assets will be highly contentious. However, this approach has the potential to be relatively better funded due to availability of multiple funding sources and a vast potential skills base.

To this end, there have already been calls to form an African space agency referred to as “AfriSpace” under the auspices of the African Union ICT ministerial caucus. This rhetoric has existed for a while and the success or failures of other AU initiatives should provide a clear indication on the outcome of this approach to embrace space technology.

In preferring this approach, Kenya will have to give precedence to continental space technology priorities over her own. It is also ambiguous how the directives of the continental body will seamlessly scale down into the existing member state’s national policy and legislation.

2. Regional

A regional driven formulation will essentially rely on the East African Community to provide guidance on how Kenya will embrace space technology. The regional blue print will have to formulate policy, identify common objectives and equitably initiate implementation structures that are sufficient to attain each member’s space-based developmental needs.  As most diplomatic bureaucrats would attest, this may turn out to be more arduous than the actual rocket science.

All the earlier stated challenges beleaguering a continental approach will also manifest here to varying degrees. The checkered history and remnants of a mistrust legacy between member states; coupled with the stuttering progression of other initiatives (e.g. customs union) constitute an additional impediment to this approach. However, consensus building and decision making is bound to be relatively faster than at the continental level initiative.

Since Kenya has the largest and a relatively more technically sophisticated economy in the region, it will naturally be expected provide leadership in this initiative. Yet, if Kenya is perceived as dominating other members; they may tend to withhold their cooperation compromising the success of this initiative.

A regional driven mechanism to adopt space technology for sustainable development in Kenya though more enticing than a continent-wide initiative, it is still susceptible to avoidable impediments. We shall hence explore a national oriented initiative next.

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