Improving Lives

China-Africa cooperation propels space industry, drives socio-economic progress.

In the past, outer space was primarily the domain of a few powerful countries and generally considered separate from broader concerns of human security and development. However, in recent times, space technology development has been a dynamic arena in which the majority of the world’s countries, including countries across the continent of Africa, are actively engaged to address their most pressing socio-economic challenges. Since the turn of the millennium, countries across Africa have demonstrated growing interest in developing their space capabilities to address their most pressing challenges, including but not limited to climate change, poverty, terrorism, and forced migration. 

Based on African countries’ interest in space technology development, in the Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, a blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa, the African Union (AU) has identified space technology as an important tool that is essential not only to address security concern, including terrorism and violent extremism, but also to boost the continent’s development and transformation. 

While the AU looks to grow its space programme, China has already reached an advanced stage in space exploration.  As early as 2003, China became the third country to attain human space flight, and less than two decades later, in 2021, the country began the construction of a space station.  

Need for collaboration

African countries have realised that in order to attain advanced space capabilities, which will help the continent to attain the space-related goals of the Agenda 2063, promoting collaboration not only with African countries, but with international partners such as China, is essential. As China aims to develop a comprehensive partnership with Africa, space technology development is a clear point of synergy in bilateral and multilateral Africa-China relations. 

Amid the intensified cooperation between African countries and China in aerospace technology, China is providing support in the form of satellite exports, satellite resource sharing, space technology exchange, and the construction of space infrastructure for the development of African countries’ space programmes. Socio-economic development and improvement of people’s living standards are key incentives for African countries to form close ties with China. A multitude of actors, including government agencies, private and quasi-private firms, and academics from both sides are striving to turn the space vision into reality. 

As with China’s approach to space development in general, China’s space spending in Africa integrates development with counterterrorism and peace and security goals, and is part of the country’s diversified international cooperation. Examples include Chinese financing for Nigeria’s satellite development under which China launched Nigeria’s first two communications satellites (the first in 2007 and the second in 2011), China’s multilateral cooperation on satellite navigation and positioning, China’s multilateral cooperation on climate monitoring and disaster management, China’s role in ground station development in Ethiopia which led to the construction of the ETRSS-1 satellite, Algeria’s first communications satellite (in 2017), and the first satellites for Ethiopia and Sudan (both in 2019). Three other satellites have been partly funded by China – ET-SMART-RSS owned by Ethiopia, AlSat-1N owned by Algeria, and EgyptSat-2 owned by Egypt. China also actively trains African space talents, for example, Nigerian scientists and engineers receive training and participate in satellite design and construction in China.

This undated photo shows the Chinese-built ground station at the Entoto Observatory and Space Science Research Center in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. (Photo/Xinhua)

Growth gains  

This fruitful space collaboration has made China a preferred partner for African countries interested in reducing costs, building capacity and fostering technology transfer. As of May 2023, 15 African countries had launched a total of 55 satellites. In addition, currently, over 20 African countries have space programmes, driving an industry that generated $19.49 billion in 2022 and is anticipated to generate over $22.64 billion by 2026. By contrast, even though the US federal agencies and universities are actively involved in research partnerships with some African countries, space technology has not been a focus of the US foreign policy towards Africa. 

So, as China strides forward in its space technology development, the Chinese government not only simultaneously extends a collaborative hand to African countries, but also shares its developmental experience and advanced technology generously, fostering inclusive growth for Africa, helping African countries to fulfil their space aspirations, and creating an environment where African people can build the Africa they want. That is why the Dakar Action Plan (2022-2024) of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation underscores intensified cooperation in aerospace technology application and infrastructure development, enhancing social development and elevating people’s living standards. 

Due to the synergy of growth and cooperation between African countries and China in space technology development, the increased internationalisation of China’s space policy, the integration of space-based infrastructure in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and the enhanced role of the private space firms from China highlight a mutual journey towards technological mastery and shared dreams. Beyond fostering shared dreams, Africa-China space collaboration is significantly bolstering African countries’ modernisation through climate monitoring, disaster prevention, and communications technology.

However, if African countries want to fully enjoy the fruits of their collaboration with China in the area of space technology development, they need to do two things: solve the problem of the fear of the future (uncertainty) and the memory of the past (colonialism), because when experience is your best teacher, progress is imprisoned. If African countries can address these two things and see China as a reliable partner, coupled with the fact that each African country can look at their own space technology needs and determine how it can address those needs in cooperation with China, then, moving forward, we can confidently say that the effort of African and Chinese people to promote Africa-China space cooperation can tackle extreme weather, food shortage, and environmental fragility. That will enable both African countries and China to make greater contributions to the construction of a high-level Africa-China community of shared future and the building of a better world where no one is left behind. 


The author is Executive Director of Centre for Nigerian Studies, Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University.