Real Estate News - Will Africa ever own her share of space?
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Over the years, space exploration has yielded diverse interests globally.
Now scientists endeavour to bring to earth new findings about the outer space and its untapped potential, which potential has given rise to a debate and scrabble for the real estate in the sky.

At the centre of the debate is the geostationary orbit located 35, 900 kilometres directly over the Equator.
Because the rotational period here equals that of the earth, objects appear stationary over a fixed point when viewed from the earth’s surface.

This property makes this geosynchronous space home to artificial satellites, which to date have found a myriad uses ranging from communication, weather forecasting and navigation to espionage, remote sensing and space sporting and tourism by the developed countries.

Equator, the imaginary line dividing the earth equally into the northern and southern hemispheres and which passes through six African nations, is already at the centre of a global scramble. Once again, Africa will be caught at crossroads just as it happened during the First and Second World Wars.

Like any natural resource and one up for grabs, the equatorial space territory is limited and therefore can’t accommodate the feet of every nation that wants to leave an imprint.

Now, the lack of accompanying rules on such a valuable resource is a recipe for conflict and space analysts fear that it might trigger the next World War.

The writing is on the on the wall as China is embroiled in a space conflict with the US. Actually, the competition for the geostatic space isn’t a new phenomenon.

It was envisioned in 1967 and a treaty signed which, in summary, said that outer space isn’t subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty.

As if in protest, nine out of the 12 states lying on the equator (Gabon and Somalia weren’t represented) in 1976 held a conference in Bogota, Colombia, and came up with another declaration that authorised them to exercise national sovereignty over the arcs of the geostationary orbit.

However, they cannot enforce this claim due to lack of financial and technical know-how, weakness that will certainly give colonial- era style land-grabs a replay in the space.

Borrowed infrastructure

The stage is already set because not a single equatorial country in Africa has a satellite to its name —logically locking them out of the global outer space ownership debate.
This is why Kenyans and Ethiopians cheered their long distance runners in the Beijing Olympics via a borrowed infrastructure.

In the current information society, communication is a valued global activity and one that Africa has gobbled up in earnest.
Almost all African countries have gone, e-governance, e-commerce, e- everything, but on a weak “foreign” and enslaving foundation by putting their much proclaimed sovereignty at the mercy of their sympathisers.

Currently over 80 per cent of Internet communication in Africa is routed through satellite Internet, yet only six out of the 54 countries that make up the continent have their own artificial satellites in space. Of the 3,275 (as of June 2008) artificial satellites 10 are from African countries.

The satellite Internet connectivity is relatively expensive considering that most of the countries are poor. High band width fibre optic cable would have been an economical alternative but this is an innovation yet to reach many African countries, as retrogressive politics stand in the way to its use.

A timely example is the East African Submarine System, a project sponsored by World Bank and African Development Bank.
Upon its completion it is expected to link South Africa, Mozambique, Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti.

Dr Othieno is freelance science journalist

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