Sudan wants Africa to reach for the stars

The International Criminal Court may want Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, on charges of war crimes, but he had other matters in mind when he addressed a regional conference last week.

"Africa must have its space agency … it will liberate Africa from the technological domination," he said.

His call follows an African Union decision two years ago to conduct a feasibility study that would draw up a "road map for the creation of the space agency". African astronomers received a massive boost when South Africa was awarded the lion's share of the Square Kilometre Array, the world's biggest radio telescope, which will see dishes erected in nine African countries.

But sceptics question whether such a body would merely add bureaucracy and financial burdens to the world's poorest continent.

A working document for the Khartoum conference says the agency, AfriSpace, would enable "co-operation among African states in space research and technology and their space applications". This co-operation would be a notable breakthrough for a continent where political and trade barriers remain notoriously obstructive. It is hoped there would be spin-offs in terms of employment, skills and technology.

But Sarah Wild, a science journalist and author of Searching African Skies, said: "South Africa took years to get its space agency up and running. I think an African space agency is a bit of a pie-in-the-sky idea. I'd be interested to see where they get the resources and skills." – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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