A nationally driven initiative to embrace space-based technology is intrinsically a Kenyan domestic affair fostered by local stakeholders in the field. A mechanism to identify the methodology of assimilating space technology highlighting the corresponding priority areas will fall squarely on the shoulders of the government. The government is sole the custodian of the common wealth and collective life-improvement aspirations of all Kenyans. Consequently, it has to use the common wealth to make the requisite investments in space technology in order to communally improve the lives of the people by facilitating national development.
Unlike the previous two approaches—Continental and Regional, a national scheme enjoys more political flexibility and policy dexterity. It is relatively easier for the national government to formulate and adopt policy based on the identified priority needs of Kenyans. Moreover, the government possesses capacity to guarantee the necessary legislation and political framework essential to implement space-based technology.
However, even within the state-centric context of embracing space technology, impetus to locally advance space technology can be spearheaded from a number of possible fronts. The natural emergence of these fronts and the extent of their involvement will be largely dependent on the scope of government enthusiasm and participation in the advancement of space technology. Therefore, we shall examine some of the feasible mechanisms likely to be at the forefront of advancing space technology utilization. These are:
i) National Space Agency ii) Private Enterprise iii)Educational Institutions iv) Space Sector
i) National Space Agency
Calls for the formation of a national space agency are as ubiquitous as there are enthusiasts of space technology in Kenya. This is by far the most popular fronted approach of integrating space technology in most countries with burgeoning techno-spheres. I believe the synonymousness of the American space agency, NASA, with space by most people is largely responsible for this proclivity.
This strategy has already gained traction within the Kenya government and there exists a government-led political and legislative thrust to establish a Kenya Space Agency. The formation of a national space agency is purely a government led strategy to engage space technology in Kenya.
However, Kenya must be extremely cautious with this approach lest the established space agency’s objectives fail to reconcile with tangible developmental needs of the citizenry. An inherent risk of lack of sustainability dwells in this approach. The space agency may merely fulfill the desire to establish a space agency or fleetingly address one or two developmental needs such as telecommunication or cartography. A far-reaching comprehensive framework poised beyond establishing a space agency is more likely to guarantee sustainability and meet development needs as we shall see.
ii) Private Enterprise
In case the government exhibits a lethargic approach comprising a diminished enthusiasm to embrace space technology for national development, the private sector will swoop in to exploit commercial aspects exposed by this dithery disposition. Since this mechanism is profit-driven and not national developmental need-driven, inherent risks of both lack of sustainability and subdued technology integration exist.
The private sector’s continued involvement will strictly be subject to profitability and restricted to those applications that generate revenue promptly. If a particular national development need lacks a clear and present positive implication on the bottom line, then it will be excluded from space-technology investment by commercial companies. For instance, weather or desertification monitoring using space technology is unlikely to be a lucrative venture to private entities. Whereas areas such as telecommunication, natural resource exploration, imaging etc, are likely to attract private sector involvement.
Ceding the mantle of national space technology integration to commercial enterprises would culminate in a haphazard tackling of national development needs. This scenario is further characterized by a patchwork of assimilated space technology lacking a clear, consistent and sustainable broad national vision. It is essentially analogous to rudderless ship destined to be tossed around by the capricious winds of swift opportunity. This rather woeful uncoordinated scheme may safely be deduced as the present state of affairs in Kenya as far as assimilating space based technology is concerned.
iii) Educational Institutions
Kenyan colleges and universities in their capacity as centers of knowledge may navigate their way to the forefront of the campaign to locally embrace space technology. These educational institutions will hence lead the country in identifying pertinent policy, nurturing the plethora of requisite technical skills and conducting relevant research.
It will be problematic for educational institutions to lead the efforts of embracing space technology in Kenya in the absence of a lucid supporting legal framework and unwavering political will. Educational institutions have a critical role to play in this endeavor but, cannot on their own be expected to pioneer how Kenya should utilize space technology for sustainable development.
Educational institutions are effective in bridging the gap between the defined national development needs and the appropriate intellectual competence in a clearly established legal, political and fiscal framework.
iv) Space sector
Each of the above three mechanisms seem to be very effective in certain aspects but gravely fall short in other aspects of deployment. Consequently, it goes begging that a prudent approach will hence be to amalgamate all of them in order to leverage on their strengths and dilute their risks. In doing so, we shall spawn an entire space sector composed of the government, educational institutions, private sector and the public; all galvanized to integrate sustainable space technology in national development.
Each constituent of the space sector will place emphasis on the functions they are proficient to optimally perform within this highly interdependent scheme.
We shall propose and delineate a Kenyan space sector as we continue with this discussion. It is however crucial to learn from the experiences of other countries that have preceded Kenya in embracing space technology. Next, we shall hence scrutinize and endeavor to learn from India’s and Brazil’s experiences in embracing space technology for national development.