As Expected, Kenya will encounter formidable challenges in her quest to establish a successful and vibrant domestic space sector. These impediments are not necessarily unique to Kenya, but, attributed to the fact that Kenya is still an industrially developing nation chiefly propped by an agri-based economy. Nonetheless, some of these hurdles will unnervingly be peculiar to the Kenyan context. We shall hence begin to scrutinize some of these challenges and suggest respective probable remedial or mitigation measures.
- Limited or complete lack of awareness
An obfuscating cloud of unfamiliarity with the scope and capabilities of space technology engulfs the entire strata of the Kenyan society. Neither the common “mwanainchi” on the streets nor the technocratic custodians of national development policy seem to possess a fundamental awareness on the relevance of space-based technology to the national development agenda. Space technology is ubiquitously treated as an enigmatic, esoteric and prohibitively untenable domain; ostensibly disconnected from the apparent grass-root level developmental objectives. Consequently, space technology is hardly explored nor prioritized as a crucial component of the solution to problems confronting the national developmental agenda. Diminished awareness can however be reversed by sustained efforts to raise familiarity on the unique capabilities of space technology by different players in the public and private sectors (e.g. this website). Moreover, the discernible tremendous positive impacts of space technology on the development initiatives of nations that Kenya wishes to emulate also serve to promote awareness of space technology in Kenya.
- Unfavorable societal context
Space technology cannot flourish in a society characterized by poor leadership, retrogressive national policies or a lack of political will. A successful domestic space sector requires 3 key ingredients highlighted below in descending influence. i) Political will, ii) Economic Backing, iii) Technological capability. As evident in other societies preceding Kenya in implementing a concerted national space technology initiative, political support to adopt space technology will not be automatically forthcoming from all concerned political players in the country. Such a scenario can augment or spawn retrogressive policies culminating in a compromised fiscal support for space technology implementation. Inaugurating a space sector in Kenya will hence be always stalked by the risk of poor leadership—a reality that has claimed numerous previous government initiatives such as the defunct “Nyayo Pioneer” domestic automobile project.
- Fiscal scarcity
Space technology requires huge financial investments, has long gestation periods and is substantially exposed to risk of failure. Kenya is an industrially developing country characterized by very meager financial resources and a vast array of developmental needs. Space technology implementation will have to compete with other deserving needs for these extremely limited funds. As a result, prudent and disciplined national budgeting complimented by other thoughtful progressive financing mechanisms avail a way forward for Kenya to fund space technology development. The unmatched returns of investing in space technology should embolden the nation to courageously embrace this path.
- Lack of prerequisite technical expertise
At present, Kenya substantially lacks the necessary knowledge and expertise required to establish and efficiently run a prosperous domestic space sector. It is hence a critical for Kenya to institute measures that will nurture a competent domestic space technology capacity. This is by no means a trivial undertaking. It is a relatively painstakingly slow process that requires careful planning and tremendous investment. It is the objective of this website to contribute towards addressing this challenge.
- Absence of scalable infrastructure and capacity
As a country buttressed by an agri-based economy, Kenya lacks an established domestic hi-tech sector with dual use or that can be easily scaled or converted to space technology application. For instance, if Kenya possessed the technological capability to build military self-propelled missiles of appreciable range; it would be feasible to upgrade such a capability to launch vehicle application. Communication satellites transponder technology can be scaled from a terrestrial telecommunication systems manufacturing know-how if it existed in the country and so on. An existing dual use or closely related technological infrastructure would hence bootstrap the proposed space sector onto the desired trajectory. However, the absence of such a technological platform compounds the challenges Kenya has to face because the space sector infrastructure will have to be established from scratch. Technology transfer from willing partners seems to be the most pragmatic approach to overcome this challenge.
- Paucity of willing technology transfer partners:
Most countries with established space programs are likely to be reluctant to partner with Kenya and liberally transfer space technology. Because of the copious investments involved, national security fears and apprehensions about encouraging competition against its own space industry; no country is envisioned to be philanthropic with space technology. Consequently, Kenya may find itself in a situation with limited willing space technology transfer partners. Fostering multiple stronger bilateral ties and acquiring strategic diplomatic leverage may help Kenya mitigate this issue.
- Restrictions on transferable technology from willing partners
Although Kenya may secure cooperative partners willing to transfer space technology, this arrangement is likely to be subjected to a variety of restrictions. Space technology is dual use by nature, consequently many aspects of it, e.g. tangible parts, subsystems, software and technical processes are subjected to heavy export control by the countries of origin. These restrictions could be in the form of denial of certain parts, systems or know-how. Such restrictions may hamper the process of building space technology capability in Kenya. However, this can be overcome to some extend by cooperating with as multiple partners and cultivating ingenious innovation with the skills already transferred.
- Undue preconditions before technology transfer
Though some countries may be willing to share space technology with Kenya, they may impose preconditions such as requiring Kenya to buy their space technology systems first before they initiate cooperation or for continued technology transfer. Such undue conditions will slow or hinder Kenya’s pace of mastering space technology expertise. A means of overcoming this barrier is to engage multiple collaborating partners and being smartly innovative with the skills already acquired provides a means to overcome this setback.
- Unfair competition
As Kenya’s industrial capacity to manufacture hi-tech space systems matures to export standards, it is likely to face unfair competition from well-established countries that unfairly protect their industries. This skewed competition maybe in the form of protected markets or subsidized competitors. Participation in regional and preferential trading blocs would hand Kenya a way to weather this competition.