The head of government fails to raise the strengths of the Spanish space fabric to increase trade relations with Nairobi and Pretoria

President Sánchez returns from Kenya and South Africa without knowing about their growing space capabilities

PHOTO/Borja Puig de la Bellacasa - The meeting in Nairobi between Pedro Sánchez and William Ruto has aimed to improve economic and industrial exchanges between Kenya and Spain, although space has not been among them.

President Pedro Sánchez is back in Madrid after his two-day lightning official trip to Kenya and South Africa, where he wanted to strengthen Spain's economic and commercial ties with two large and important black African nations. 

The reason for the Spanish Prime Minister's stay, first in Nairobi on 26 October and the following day in Pretoria and Johannesburg, was not to attend the signing of a multi-million dollar contract won in international competition by a large company or national consortium in those lands. On the contrary, he returned without any high-level agreements. 

His state trip was limited to meetings with the 56-year-old Kenyan President William Ruto, who took office on 13 September, and with the 70-year-old South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in office since mid-February 2018, to show their support for the proposals of Spanish companies in the renewable energy, fishing, automotive, infrastructure and food industry sectors.  

PHOTO/Borja Puig de la Bellacasa - El presidente Sánchez y la ministra de Industria, Reyes Maroto, con los directivos de las empresas españolas de energías renovables, automoción, infraestructuras y agroalimentarias asentadas en Kenia

In his appearance alongside the South African President to meet the media, Pedro Sánchez stated that he had had the opportunity to "speak at length with President Cyril Ramaphosa, (...), and to continue promoting the interrelation of our economies with the aim of strengthening the productive fabric of both countries". He has expressed himself in similar terms with regard to his talks with Kenyan President William Ruto. 

However, either through ignorance on the part of those responsible for organising the trip's agenda, or because the matter was not discussed in the coordination meetings with the different ministries, or simply through forgetfulness or ignorance, the president has missed a golden opportunity to open up a new avenue for trade relations with Kenya and South Africa. 

PHOTO/EFE - El mandatario sudafricano Cyril Ramaphosa y Pedro Sánchez hablaron sobre nuevas vías para fomentar las transacciones comerciales entre ambos países, pero el español no incluyó en su agenda el potencial del sector espacial nacional
Israel seeks to collaborate with Kenya's space agency

The area that has not been addressed in the bilateral presidential talks is the contribution that the Spanish space industry and technology can make to the growth of the aforementioned sector in Kenya and South Africa, which is strategic for Spain, but even more so for the authorities in Nairobi and Pretoria. 

Both countries are veteran space actors in Africa and each has its own space agency. They also have their own national space policies, strategies and plans and a growing industry based on small companies and start-ups. The authorities in both countries focus on using space-derived technologies to improve the living conditions of their compatriots, manage their vast territory and foster the growth of their middle classes. 

Considered by Moncloa as "two of the most stable and solid democracies in the region", South Africa has 60 million inhabitants and an area almost two and a half times that of Spain, while Kenya has 56 million people and a territory 17% larger than Spain. So the authorities in Nairobi and Pretoria are relying on space-based services to automate and support public health and education services and to improve their industry, fisheries and agriculture.

PHOTO/KSA - Tras la visita del presidente Sanchez, el embajador de Israel en Nairobi, Michael Lotem, mantuvo una reunión con el director general de la Agencia Espacial de Kenia, Hillary Kipkosgey, para tratar la posibilidad de cooperar

Unfortunately, Moncloa has not identified space issues as worthy of Pedro Sanchez's discussion with his hosts and the topic has not been included in the bilateral agendas. There is no record of any senior official or manager with knowledge of the issue in the president's entourage. Nor was the Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism, Reyes Maroto, who accompanied him. The delegation did not include any businessmen from the sector, not even an executive from the Centre for Technological Development and Innovation (CDTI), an organisation that reports to Minister Diana Morant's Ministry of Science, where multi- and bilateral space cooperation is concentrated. 

But the issue that the Spanish president has left aside, others value it. The day after the meeting between Sánchez and President Ruto, Israel's ambassador to Nairobi, Michael Lotem, met with the director general of the Kenya Space Agency (KSA), Brigadier General Hillary Kipkosgey. They discussed possible collaboration in earth observation, water resource management and the use of satellite data. Kenya also has excellent relations with NASA in the US and with agencies in Germany (DLR), France (CNES) and especially Italy (ASI). 

To the surprise of many, the first space activities in Kenya date back to 1962, a year before the country's independence, when it was still a dominion of the United Kingdom. It was shortly after NASA erected the first antenna in Robledo de Chavela (Madrid) to track its Mariner probes sent to explore Mercury, Venus and Mars.  

PHOTO/DST - Kenia y Sudáfrica quedan lejos del grado de desarrollo de la industria espacial española, por lo que es viable establecer un marco de cooperación. El nano satélite de 4 kilos ZACube2 y tecnología radio definida por software fue lanzado en 2018
The strengths of two African space veterans

Under the auspices of the Rome government of then Prime Minister Amintore Fanfani, Rome's Sapienza University and NASA refurbished a pair of oil rigs and anchored them off Malindi on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast. On one - named San Marco - they installed a rocket launch system, and on the other - Santa Rita - they installed tracking equipment. 

Kenya happens to be on the geographic equator, a very advantageous position for space launches because rockets increase their speed by an additional 1,650 km/h if they fly in the direction of the Earth's rotation, allowing heavier payloads to be carried with the same thrust. Between 1964 and 1988, more than 20 sounding rockets and nine small satellites were fired. Today ASI trains Kenyan engineers and maintains the Broglio Space Centre in Malindi, dedicated to tracking space objects. 

The Kenyan government has published its space policy, the KSA has its 2020-2025 strategic plan and has three other satellite reception centres across the country, in Longonot, Kericho and Nairobi. It has launched several nano satellites into orbit since 2018 and will continue to do so. The one launched in March 2021 is Simba, to track the movements of wild animals in Kenya's national parks, whose data is processed by the universities of Nairobi, Machakos and La Sapienza.  

PHOTO/SANSA - Sudáfrica está bañada por las aguas del Atlántico y el Índico y su extensión es dos veces y media la de España. La SANSA emplea muchas herramientas de software para dar la máxima certidumbre a sus predicciones meteorológicas

South Africa unified its science, technology and space research efforts by law in 2008, but it was not until 9 December 2010 that it launched the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) in Pretoria, which will be headed on an interim basis by Professor Andiswa Mlisa as of March 2022. With large tracking antennas in Hartebeesthoek near Johannesburg, SANSA maintains close relations with NASA, CNES, the Chinese space administration (CNSA), the British agency (UK Space) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It also has closer ties with the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) after signing an agreement in 2020 and organising a virtual industry summit last May. 

The South African Council for Space Affairs (SACSA) has defined the country's space policy, with a focus on its use for economic growth and poverty reduction. The Space Affairs Act of July 1993, updated in 1995, governs government and private space activities. Since 1999 it has sent a dozen nano satellites into space, the last three in January 2022 (MDASat) for AIS vessel tracking. In December 2014 it launched Kondor-E for military purposes, a 1.1-tonne synthetic aperture radar (SAR) platform built by Russian industry. 

PHOTO/COFIDES - El presidente de la Compañía Española de Financiación del Desarrollo (COFIDES), José Luis Curbelo, y la directora de Operaciones de la Corporación de Desarrollo Industrial de Sudáfrica, Joanne Bate, suscribieron un acuerdo de inversiones

Around fifty companies and start-ups make up its industrial fabric, including NewSpace Systems, a hardware company that exports its products to 26 countries, mainly the United States, but also China, India, Japan, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Together with Australia, South Africa is home to the world's largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), whose electromagnetic eyes and ears aim to locate intelligent life in the cosmos, a project in which Spain is participating. In short, a missed opportunity for collaboration, but not impossible to resume.