Enough Space for Everyone? US, China Target Africa 

Space competition between the United States and China is extending to the African continent, with China currently leading the way in space cooperation. While Africa’s space agencies are still in their early stages compared to those of the US and China, space has become a new frontier for diplomatic engagement with African nations. China has emerged as Africa’s leading partner, collaborating across various sectors such as communications, observation, navigation, and positioning. China is developing satellites for African countries, establishing ground station infrastructure, and promoting the adoption of its BeiDou satellite navigation system as an alternative to the US’s GPS.

Chinese companies have been capitalizing on this partnership for years, while the US is now beginning to recognize the significance of China’s efforts. The US strategy towards Africa in space aims to reduce China’s hegemony over the continent. Collaboration with African countries in space is a crucial aspect of US engagement in Africa. For instance, the US has partnered with Nigeria’s firm SpaceX and assisted Kenya in launching its first operational earth satellite. However, China perceives Elon Musk’s company, Space X, as a major competitor in its ambition to become a dominant space power by 2045.

According to Nigerian space scientist Temidayo Oniosun, who founded Space in Africa, there are currently space programs in more than 20 African countries. These programs focus on using space development to achieve national goals, address challenges like climate change and national disaster preparedness, and enhance counter-terrorism efforts. Furthermore, African countries view space-linked infrastructure as vital for their development.

While China leads in space cooperation with Africa, the US is actively working internationally to ensure a safe, peaceful, and prosperous future in space. NASA, the US space agency, is collaborating with the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) to build a new tracking and communications antenna site. Additionally, the US-led Artemis Accords, a set of principles for civil space exploration, have gained support from African countries like Angola.

Competition in space between major powers poses national security concerns. As space assets become essential for intelligence gathering, communication, and military operations, disparities in capabilities can escalate tensions and increase the risk of conflict. The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on China’s military developments highlights Beijing’s ambitions in space and its acquisition of counter-space capabilities. The report also raises concerns about China’s space and satellite programs in Latin America having potential defense capabilities.

While China’s space industry footprint expands globally, its cooperation with Africa aims to promote peaceful and inclusive space-related activities. The South African National Space Agency emphasizes the peaceful use of space and respectful cooperation. As the global space landscape evolves, an increasing number of nations, including emerging ones, participate and partner in space activities, contributing to the overall development of space exploration and utilization.

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