Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Africa's Image: A case of Misbranding

Some in the so-called western nations and possibly elsewhere, where mass media dissemination is influenced by information fed from big business mass media in so-called western nations, instantly think of a small village sporting a mix of fully dressed or semi dressed-up people who are largely spared the visible symbols of modern essentials like cars, electricity, paved roads, recreational facilities, banks and so forth, when the term "Africa" is uttered to them. How faithful to reality is such a perception?

To be sure, big business-corporate mass media in "western" nations play no small part implanting these very narrow-minded stereotypes of the African continent, which is almost always treated as one gigantic
nation devoid of socio-economic variations, to be exacerbated by lack of traveling by folks in those nations.

The present author is reminded of the buzzword "All in the same 'basket case'" in an interesting piece by one Melissa Davis who runs Truebranding, an agency in London that specialises in brand and responsibility, and quote:

When it comes to Africa, the branding of the continent is particularly one-sided. It is easy to mistake one of the world's most disparate and compelling continents as an impoverished, war-riddled charity case that is best to avoid. Despite the fact that some African countries are excelling in growth and stability - Botswana, for example, was one of the world's fastest growing economies over the last decade - the continent's reputation continues to overpower the **identities of its nations**.


Perhaps this is because the noisiest branding of Africa still
comes from **outside** the continent. The failure of **'charity branding'** Africa's dominant image has been created by the charity brands: the 1985 Live Aid to provide food for Ethiopia, 2005's Live 8, "Make Poverty History," G8 politics, Sir Bono and Sir Bob, celebrity adoptions, and Vanity Fair covers. Such campaigns can play a positive role - a strong public voice can put ground swells of pressure on politicians and instigate change. But, en masse, these campaigns have a tendency to create a perception of Africa as a continent that is beyond hope: too much poverty, too much death, and an overwhelming sense of too many problems with too few coherent solutions...

...Despite the awareness and the pleas - and the impression that much is being done for "Africa" -
overall int
ernational aid to Africa has consistently *fallen* during the last decade; most of the G8 promises to help Africa have not been met; **unfair international trade** rules remain a key issue; and external funding for manageable diseases like HIV/Aids and malaria is simply not enough. The newspaper columns, the concerts, and the international declarations remain in the realms of rhetoric.

All in the same 'basket case'

While it is impossible to deny that within Africa lies critical, complex, and extraordinarily challenging issues, it must also be
acknowledged that she is a continent of **54 countries** and one of **vast contrasts**. Zimbabwe still attracts tourists to the stable enclave of Victoria Falls while the rest of the country collapses; its neighbour, South Africa, is experiencing high levels of economic growth, tourism, and foreign investment, while shouldering a reputation for violent crime; Mozambique has become a hot-spot for backpackers and other tourists after decades of civil war; Morocco in the north has successfully become a "European" travel destination, almost distinct from the rest
of Africa. Yet any "good" stories of growth, strong leadership, and achievements are too often overshadowed by persistent news of the bad. "Africa is suffering from the **'continent branding effect'** where every country shoulders the reputation of the others," says government advisor Simon Anholt.

Precisely! Africa is afforded one treatment that other continents and sub-continents alike are generally spared:

The Continent Branding

...fraught with negative half-truths and misinformations.

"One of the greatest obs
tacles to Africa's economic development is the well-meaning attempt from people in the West branding Africa as a 'basket case.' But a charity brand is fundamentally different from a growth brand. So Africa is simultaneously trying to present two incompatible ideas: a desirable destination and a charity case."

And so, getting to the issue of "all in the same basket case", the present author can't help but use a recent article on "Iceland best place to live, Africa worst: UN" by Reuters, as a good example.

Was applying a blanket term "Africa"—an entire continent—alongside the name of a single nation in the heading a mere fluke? 

The authors of this profoundly dumb claim apparently had no problem using the "all in one basket case", because the content of the article that follows contradicts everything about that title. For instance, the article says:

...But the index, blending 2005 figures for life expectancy, educational levels and real per capita income, finds that all 22 countries falling into its "low human development" category are in sub-Saharan Africa, with Sierra Leone last.

The article attempts to justify its anti-intelligent "all in one basket case" broad generalization of "Africa" in its header—noted above, in block letters—by pointing out that all the so-described "22 countries" in its entry just so happen to be "sub-Saharan African" countries. The article then goes onto to say, that
not only...

In 10 of these countries, two children in five will not reach the age of 40, said the compilers at the U.N. Development Program. Last year's report said HIV/AIDS had had a "catastrophic effect" on life expectancy in the region.

...but also...

The index ranks 175 U.N. member countries plus Hong Kong and the Palestinian territories. It does not include 17 countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, because of inadequate data.

This should instantly raise eye-brows for the simple observation that, they (authors) speak of 22 countries [sub-Saharan] in their entry "falling into its "low human development" category", but what about the oth
er African countries outside of these 22 states? Should their socio-economic status be dismissed on the account of those "22 countries"—that is to say, "guilt-by-continental association"? Even so, the intellectually-challenged author(s) of the article goes onto reiterate the so-called prediction about 10 out of the "lucky" 22 countries" falling into its "low human development" category; suffice to say, that even those "22 countries" failed to show the same set of socio-economic situations. The article also states that only 175 UN member states were studied, including "non-states" like Hong Kong and Palestinian territories; so, what about the nations and territories outside [a subset of which apparently includes the excluded countries of "Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia"] of those 177 entries—what are we told about their socio-economic status in this quest to find the "absolute extremes" of which place is "best to live" and "worst to live" respectively? 

With regards to the AIDS having a "catastrophic effect on the life expectancy", presumably in those 10 out of those 22 [African] countries, one may be reminded of what Melissa Davis noted about "charity bands" like that of say, "985 Live Aid to provide food for Ethiopia", in terms of their role in this [mainly Eurocentric mass media] misbranding campaign of the African continent. AIDS is at times spoken of as though it were synonymous with Africa, and as though, this is the "African problem". Fact is, AIDS is live and well in the backyard of these "mouthpieces"—that is, putting aside the "dubious" origins of HIV, as traditionally put forth by Eurocentric mass media.

It is of note that on the list provided in the article, in terms the "2007/2008 Human Development Index rankings", several African countries are ranked ahead of a number of non-African countries; yet, the heading of the Reuters' article will have one believe that these countries are either non-existent or irrelevant, notwithstanding their inclusion in the study, simply because several other African countries in their entries were ranked much lower?! As I have said elsewhere

Afro-pessimists like to call on how things look dire for the survival of Africans, when in fact African populations couldn't be expressing wider-spread and faster-paced economic progress across the continent in recent times, while those "traditional" rich economies of Europe and America appear to be largely stagnant in their growth.

Yes, there are challenges still facing Africans to varying degrees, depending on where, but Africans are generally a resilient and living-simple bunch; for instance, think: wonder why it is that suicide rates are higher in many of these so-called traditional 'rich' economies of Europe, USA and Japan than Africa?

Apparently, settler
Whites in Africa don't seem to be aware of this "undesirability" of living there. Certainly, the transnational corporations of many of the "traditional" rich economies of Europe and America don't seem to be aware of this "undesirability"; in fact, the oligarchy in these economies seem to whine every now and then about how others, namely the Chinese and "Middle Eastern" investors, are quickly taking note of the 'desirability' of presence in the region.

To put it in
Iain Ellwood's words, the head of strategy at Interbrand—UK:

"We are still waiting for the **authentic branding** of African nations."

"We currently rely on the stereotype of the celebrity driven, paternalistic helping hand that **belie
s the true power of the African people and their cultural landscape**"

For her part, Carol Pineau, director of the f
ilm Africa Open For Business, says:

'Africa is also a land of stock markets, high rises, internet cafes and a growing middle class'

Indeed, with regards to the last point made by Carol about growth, one can come across examples across parts of Africa, which belie this branding of Africa with a single paint brush, if one so chooses to avail oneself of the information. For instance, lets take the budding aerospace industry:

Countries like Tunisia and Morocco have for example, become desirable bases for aircraft manufacturers like Air
bus industry and Boeing; in these countries, particularly Morocco, the aircraft industry spans aircraft design and development concerns like Teuchos Maroc to manufacturing jetliner sub-assemblies and components by the likes of EADS Maroc, Latécoère Tunisia, Matis Aerospace, SERMP, Sefcam, and so forth. These are not investments that are proportionately distributed across Africa, but they do show that there are noticeable socio-economic distinctions—in addition to cultural ones—amongst African nations.

Likewise, budding indigenous [i.e. not foreign concerns] "defense industries" can be located in various African nations, and an area where there are noticeable contrasts between the various African nations. For instance, outside of Africa, who would have associated aircraft-building, ship-building, electronics, computers, and so forth—in tandem with the military—with Nigeria? What about concerns like TAT of Tunisia, AOI of Egypt, CSIR or Denel Corp. of South Africa, which are multi-faceted organizations that handle things related to building up a nation's military complex—anything from aircraft research and development, electroni
cs, or the space program to development and production of armored vehicles of all stripes [from tanks, mine-resistant to personnel carriers], rockets, ammunition and machine guns.

Relevant excerpts that make some interesting reading as "examples"...


Nigeria's fledgling domestic defense industry was the second distinctive source of military matériel, particularly for small arms, ammunition, and maintenance and repair services. The stateowned Defence Industries Corporation (DIC), established in 1964, geared up to produce ammunition during the civil war. By the 1970s, its facilities in Kaduna produced West German-designed HK G-3 rifles, BM-59 and PM-12 handguns, and 7.62mm and 9mm parabellum ammunition. Lack of financial and management support, however, impeded further progress until the DIC was reenergized in 1984 by
then army chief of staff Babangida. After becoming president, Babangida expanded the DIC to increase Nigeria's selfreliance

In 1977 the army decided to standardize its infantry weapons with Belgian FAL assault rifles, Browning GP pistols, and MAG machine guns. In 1978 licensed production rights were acquired, and in 1980 the DIC's facilities in Kaduna were adapted and upgraded by Belgian technicians to assemble these weapons. Production began in 1983; full production capacity was achieved in 1987; and the next year the DIC was reported to be relying entirely on local raw materials and to be producing all the basic rifles and ammunition the army and police used. Its annual production capacity was 15,000 FAL rifles, 9,000 to 10,000 GP pistols, and 1,000 MAG machine guns. The FAL rifle entered service in 1989 as the NR-1.

In addition to the small arms and ammunition factories at Kaduna, newer facilities for the assembly of armored fighting vehicles and light tanks were under development at Bauchi in 1990. Austrian Steyr 680M 4x4 tactical military trucks were reportedly assembled there, and it was also planned to produce Pinzgauer light tracked armored vehicles and Steyr 4K 7FA tracked armored personnel carriers. By 1987 the DIC employed 2,000 to 3,000 people at its Kaduna and Bauchi plants. Indications of a nascent commercial defense industry included a manufacturer in Anambra State whose inexpensive jeeps included military models being tested by the army; a local service industry to supply uniforms, accoutrements, and selected ordnance matériel; and increased domestic souring for aircraft and naval ship components and maintenance services. Local assembly of West German MBB Bo105 helicopters for the air force was also contemplated. Further progress hinged on the availability of foreign capital and technology, joint ventures, and export opportunities, especially for rifles and ammunition.

On its silver anniversary April 22, 1989, the air force unveiled and conducted a test flight of a prototype of Nigeria's first domestically built aircraft, the Air Beetle. Jointly built over two years by the NAF and a West German Kaduna-based firm from the design of the United States Van RV-6 sport aircraft, the Air Beetle had the unique feature of being able to fly on standard automobile fuel. This two-seat, single engine airplane was intended to be the primary trainer for the NAF, replacing the aging British Bulldog trainers. The production program called for sixty units by 1992 and eventual development of an improved version, the Super Air Beetle. In early 1990, the first export orders were reported, and forty aircraft of the first production run were scheduled for delivery to foreign customers.

Under a national aircraft maintenance policy approved in 1987, depots were being set up around the country with the aim of achieving complete overhaul capability for all civil and military aircraft. In July 1988, a task force to implement the national aircraft maintenance center was inaugurated. The center will be a civilian organization with the capability to service, maintain, and overhaul military aircraft and components. In 1989 the air force was directed to indigenize 50 percent of its maintenance work within ten years. The manufacture of such basic aircraft components and spare parts as hydraulic units and actuators, brakes, and plastic passenger cabin parts had also begun by the late 1980s. These domestic production and technical service industries were intended to save foreign exchange, to foster self-reliance, and to promote a local technological and industrial base. The navy also turned increasingly to local suppliers for spare parts and maintenance services. In mid-1989 about 40 percent of the spare parts for naval vessels reportedly had been produced in Nigeria, and the navy saved N20 million at that time (for value of the naira--see Glossary) by using locally made parts including propeller shafts and generator parts. The new navy dockyard, opened at the end of 1990 at Victoria Island near Lagos, will eventually have the capacity to boost domestic production of spare parts for ships to 70 percent of requirements and to permit future modification and even construction of ships.

Data as of June 1991

NOTE: The information regarding Nigeria on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Nigeria Arms Procurement and Defense Industries information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Nigeria Arms Procurement and Defense Industries should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook


As early as 1949, Egypt unveiled plans to develop its own aircraft and armaments industry with the industrial base that emerged during World War II when British and American forces placed orders for equipment. Egypt entered into a number of joint venture projects to produce European-designed aircraft. The most successful of these led to the Jumhuriya basic flight trainer, of which about 200 were eventually made. In 1962 Egypt undertook a major program wit
h the help of West German technicians to design and build a supersonic jet fighter, but the government terminated the project because of financial strains caused by the June 1967 War. In a separate program assisted by West German scientists and technicians, the air force built prototypes of three SSM designs. These designs, however, were never put into operational use. During the 1970s and 1980s, Egypt expanded and diversified its production of arms to achieve partial self-sufficiency and to develop an export market in the Middle East and Africa. In addition to manufacturing small arms and ammunition, Egypt had begun producing or assembling more advanced weapons systems through licensing and joint venture agreements with companies based in the United States and Western Europe. Egyptian technicians and scientists developed several indigenous weapons systems.

The National Organization for Military Production within the Ministry of Military Production supervised a number of manufacturing plants, which were usually named after their location. These plants included the Abu Zaabal Company for Engineering Industries, which produced artillery pieces and barrels; the Abu Zaabal Tank Repair Factory, which overhauled and repaired tanks and would eventually become the producer of Egypt's main battle tank; the Al Maadi Company for Engineering Industries, which produced light weapons, including the Egyptian version of the Soviet AK-47 assault rifle; the Hulwan Company for Machine Tools, which produced mortars and rocket launchers; the Hulwan Company for Engineering Industries, which produced metal parts for ammunition, shells, bombs, and rockets; the Heliopolis Company for Chemical Industries, which produced artillery ordnance, bombs, and missile warheads; and the Banha Company for Electronic Industries, which produced communications devices.

In 1975 Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates founded the Arab Organization for Industrialization (AOI) and capitalized the new organization with more than US$1 billion. These countries set up the AOI to establish an Arab defense industry by combining Egypt's managerial ability and industrial labor force with the Arab countries' oil money and foreign technology. The bulk of the arms manufacturing was intended to take place in Egypt. But the AOI foundered before it could become a major arms producer because the Arab states broke relations with Egypt over Sadat's peace initiatives with Israel. Egypt kept the AOI functioning in spite of a 1979 proclamation by Saudi Arabia dissolving the body. Some of the AOI's members have renewed military contacts, but as of 1989, the AOI had not been restored to its original status.

The AOI had operated as an independent enterprise since 1979 and was exempt from Egyptian taxes and business restrictions. The AOI consisted of nine companies, five wholly owned by Egypt and four joint ventures. The Egyptian plants manufactured missiles, rockets, aircraft engine parts, armored personnel carriers, electronics, radar, communications gear, and assembled aircraft. A joint venture with French firms assembled Gazelle combat helicopters and helicopter engines. A joint venture with the British manufactured the Swingfire antitank guided missile, while another venture with the Chrysler Corporation produced jeeps.

As of 1990, Egypt did not manufacture its own aircraft, but it assembled Tucano primary trainers from Brazil, Chenyang fighters from China, and Alpha Jet trainers designed in France and West Germany. Egyptian technicians had also reverse engineered and modified two Soviet SAMs--the Ayn as Saqr (a
version of the SA-7) and the Tayir as Sabah (a version of the SA-2). Egyptian shipyards had produced eight fast attack naval craft fitted with British armaments and electronics.

The only armored vehicle in production was the Fahd four-wheeled APC, although the United States and Egypt planned to coproduce 540 Abrams M1A1 main battle tanks over a ten-year period beginning in 1991. The project would be funded largely through United States military aid; the United States would also supply the engines and fire control systems. According to some reports, Egypt was reconsidering the project because of its high cost. But as of late 1989, Egypt appeared to be going forward with the plan.

In September 1989, Egypt had reportedly dropped out of the Condor II project, cosponsored with Argentina and Iraq,
to develop an intermediate-rage (800-kilometer) SSM. Earlier that year, officials in the United States had arrested several persons, including two military officers attached several persons, including two military officers attached to the Embassy of Egypt in Washington, in connection with the illegal export of missile technology and materials needed to produce rocket fuel and nose cones.

In March 1989, United States and Swiss officials claimed that Egypt had imported from Switzerland the main elements of a plant capable of manufacturing poison gas. Mubarak denied that Egypt had either the facilities or the plans for producing chemical weapons. The main purchaser of Egyptian defense products had been Iraq. In the early 1980s, Iraq was desperate to replace Soviet military equipment lost during the early stages of the war with Iran. Iraq blunted Iranian attacks with the Saqr 18, the Egyptian version of the Soviet BM-21 122mm m
ultiple rocket launcher.

Egypt sold a smaller volume of weapons to Kuwait and other Persian Gulf states. In 1988 Kuwait was reported to have ordered about 100 Fahd armored personnel carriers; Oman and Sudan ordered smaller quantities of these carriers. Because Egypt considered the value of its military exports confidential, it omitted this information from its published trade statistics. According to ACDA, Egypt exported US$340 million worth of military equipment in 1982, declining to an average of US$70 million annually in the years from 1985 to 1987. The ACDA data was considered conservative. Other estimates have placed Egyptian defense exports as high as US$1 billion in 1982 and US$500 million annually in 1983 and 1984, when deliveries to Iraq were at their peak. International observers believed that Egypt has not engaged in efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Egypt had a small nuclear research reactor that was built with Soviet assistance, but the Soviets controlled the disposal of the facility's spent fuel. In any event, the facility was not capable of producing a significant amount of weapons-grade material. Egypt signed the Treaty on the N
on-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1968 but delayed ratifying it, presumably because the government had evidence that Israel had embarked on a nuclear weapons program. In 1975 the United States agreed in principle on a program to supply Egypt with power reactors. The plan was subject to a trilateral safeguards agreement signed by the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Egypt. Although financing problems stalled construction of power reactors from the United States, Egypt ratified the NPT in 1981, in order to be able to conclude agreements with other countries for the construction of atomic energy-production facilities.

Data as of December 1990

NOTE: The information regarding Egypt on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies a
nd the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Egypt Defense Industry information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Egypt Defense Industry should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.


As of April 2nd, 2008...

The company Algerian aircraft construction (ACE) has just presented a new-build aircraft: an agricultural aircraft named the X-3A. A single-seat model estimated at 24.6 million dinars, it is designed for the application of crop protection products promoted under the locust, mosquito repellent and others. Launched in early 2004, this aircraft will be subject to certification testing once completed. The aircraft is made at the ACE facility, utilizing indigenous research and development capacity, and thereafter, units manufacturing and assembly in the region of Oran. The X-3A is in addition to two other products made in Algeria by ACE: the 142 single-seat Firnas Safir and 43 SAFIR—
two new aircraft adapted to the standards of navigation. ACE built in 2007, the 3rd series aircraft model SAFIR 43M to meet the Air Force commands. Two other models were also made for the services of civil defence. ACE makes no secret of its ambitions for the coming years, it has a development programme which includes the launch of a project to build an aircraft for medical evacuation of sick or injured, a reconnaissance aircraft and Surveillance by equipping the 142 Firnas with high-tech electronics and another cargo aircraft to transport heavy products.


South Africa:

Published: 2 Nov 07

Should South Africa get back into the business of building space rockets? Could it?

One who thinks that the answer to both questions is 'yes' is US-trained South African aerospace engineer Mark Comninos, who, in 2002, established his own company, Marcom Aeronautics & Space, to pursue his dream of getting this country back into rocketry.

South Africa plans to establish a space agency," he points out. "A space agency needs three segments - a ground segment, a space segment, and the link between the two: a rocket" South Africa already has the ground segment - for example, the Satellite Applications Centre of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research - and the space segment - the Sumbandila microsatellite, designed and built by SunSpace & Information Systems, of Stellenbosch, which is still awaiting launch by the Russians.

What this country does not have is an independent launch capability. It nearly did, once, as a spin-off of the nuclear weapons programme of the 1980s - that saw the development of medium-range ballistic missiles (three were built, two test-fired on ballistic trajectories, while the third, deactivated, is preserved at the South African Air Force Museum at Air Force base Swartkops, in Pretoria) that could have been adapted to launch satellites into low earth orbit (LEO) - there was a project to do so, but it was terminated owing to budget cuts.

And Nigeria has initiated a national programme to design and develop rocket motors and, there-after, space rockets - although this is still in its early stages, it is a serious programme and it should be remembered that Nigeria already has a space agency and now has more satellites in orbit than South Africa.

"The development of a space rocket won't go smoothly - it is to be expected that one or two rocket engines will blow up during tests, and that there will be failures in systems and subsystems. "This has happened, and still happens to everyone who has developed, or seeks to develop [his or her] own launch capability. "But a civilian space rocket programme would be enormously beneficial to South Africa, and build the country's space capability," argues Comninos. "Rocket engineering is difficult, but it is not as difficult as people think it is."

In fact, he believes it can be done using private investment and on a commercial basis, competing in the growing global market for satellite launches into LEO.

There are already private-sector satellite manufacturers one in South Africa and a number of overseas private-sector enterprises seeking to develop satellite launch vehicles (SLVs) for LEO satellites: the most advanced of these is Space Exploration in the US (better known as SpaceX).

"The SLV market can be divided into three segments - small SLVs, capable of launching satellies with masses from 200 kg to 1 000 kg; medium SLVs, with a payload capacity from 1 000 kg to 5 000 kg; and heavy SLVs, which carry satellites and other spacecraft from 5 000 kg to 20 000 kg," he explains. He is convinced that a South African rocket would compete successfully in the first of these categories, the small SLV market. "The small SLV segment is also the smallest part of the total SLV market, but it still generates revenues of about $100-million a year," he highlights.

Marcom has developed a detailed design for such a small SLV, which has been designated the Cheetah-1, which would be able to take a 1-t payload into LEO.

Comninos is certain it can be built here, using South African expertise and predominantly South African materials, and that doing it in this country would reduce costs, thereby creating a competitive advantage in the world SLV market.

"I've been looking into this for seven years," he states. "I have spoken to about 60 companies, showing them what would be needed, and what the specifications would be. All the raw materials, to the required quality, necessary to build the components of the rocket are available in South Africa. "We have the technology and expertise in South Africa to manufacture the turbo-pumps, the tanks, the electrics, the mechanical parts, and the avionics hardware - we would need to write the software, but that can be done here as well. We have already produced a fully fledged multibody, six-degree-of-freedom flight dynamics simulation program running our navigation and guidance software, necessary to control the rocket during its ascent into space." He is currently investigating the local manufacture of thrust chambers for the rocket engines.

The plan is to use the easiest-to-handle type of liquid rocket fuel to power the Cheetah-1 - liquid oxygen and refined kerosene, which would be combined in the thrust chamber. "Liquid oxygen is easily available in South Africa, and there is a lot of local experience in handling it; the only problem is that no energy company produces refined kerosene locally - there is no market here - so we'd need to further refine Jet A1 fuel down to refined kerosene." The production concept is to subcontract the manufacture of different components to different companies and then for Marcom to integrate them to form the rocket and its engines. "I don't foresee any problems integrating components from different manufacturers to create the rocket engines - they're basically mechanical systems, and as long as the companies can manufacture to certain tolerances, there should be no problem putting them all together," he argues. The company will need to build an assembly facility and a rocket engine test facility.

The proposed launch site is the Overberg test range, in the Western Cape, which has all the necessary control, tracking, and telemetry facilities; however, it will be necessary to build a launch pad, a vehicle assembly building, and ground support infrastructure.

The Cheetah-1 is a two-stage design. The first stage would be powered by a single rocket engine with a total sea level thrust of 860 kN, while the second stage would have a single 58-kN engine - this first-stage rocket engine would basically be a scaled-up version of the second-stage engine. The complete rocket would stand 31,7 m tall, including the two stages, the interstage (which links the two stages) and the nose cone (which would contain the customer's payload).

It would be able to put a 1 000-kg payload into a 200-km orbit at an inclination of 34 degrees, or a 650-kg payload into a 200-km orbit at a declination of 90 degrees, or a 650-kg payload into a 200-km polar orbit. It would be able to accommodate payloads with a maximum diameter of 1,6 m, and a maximum length of 4,2 m. The payload would have to be able to withstand a maximum axial acceleration of 6,5 g (that is, six-and-a-half times the force of gravity at sea level) and a maximum lateral acceleration of 2 g.

The Cheetah-1 would, for vehicle ascent control, employ dual redundant flight control computers, getting navigation data from dual redundant strap-down inertial navigation systems. Every moment of the flight would be monitored from ground control, which could destroy the rocket if it malfunctions.

Comninos proposes that the development of the Cheetah-1 be done in phases. Because the first-stage engine would be scaled up from the second-stage engine, the plan is that the first phase of the programme would be the development and testing of the prototype second- stage engine which, with adequate funding, he believes, could be achieved in a period of 12 months (a lot of the design work on the engine has already been done). This would require an investment of R20-million and would serve to demonstrate the seriousness and practicality of the project.

The second phase would involve the development and testing of the avionics and the development of the first-stage motors. The third phase would be the manufacture testing of the Cheetah-1 prototype. "I believe that it can all be done - from start to the first flight of the entire rocket - in three years," he asserts.

So far, however, only foreign investors have shown interest in the project. "This is not a short-term investment; it is investment in basic transport infrastructure, which happens to be space transport. South African investors are very conservative, but some do like putting money into high-profile projects, such as the A-1 Grand Prix," he cites. "What is preventing us from competing is a fear of failure." But, with rocketry, one must be prepared for failures - they happen to everyone. "It’s simply the nature of the business. "It is important to recognise that a space rocket is totally different to an aeroplane; an aircraft is expected to operate safely for decades, but a rocket is a one-shot affair, with an operational life measured in minutes - this necessitates a totally different design philisophy," he highlights.

"We're registered with the Non-Proliferation Committee of the Department of Trade and Industry in Pretoria - South Africa is a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime and this is 'dual-use' technology," he assures. "The government is obliged to monitor all companies developing dual-use technologies, even before any hardware is produced; we're also registered with the country's Space Affairs Council."

Of course, should the South African State decide to invest in the programme, Comninos is not going to object. "There is a design: we're going public with it, looking for capital to develop it - the investment could be local or foreign, private or public, and the question is: who will be first?" 

Denel Aerospace projects...

Published: 1 Apr 08 

The missile and aviation testing subsidiary of South Africa's State-owned defence group Denel, Denel OTB, will rack up a first on Thursday, when the European Space Agency's Jules Verne supply vessel docks with the International Space Station (ISS).

Earlier this month, OTB gave active support to the launch of the ‘Jules Verne' automated transfer vehicle (ATV) from a remote telemetry station in New Zealand, Denel said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

The Jules Verne was the most complex spacecraft ever built in Europe, the company added.

Although Denel OTB had supported several space missions for Boeing in the recent past, this was the first time the French Space Agency, Center National d' Etides Spatiales, had contracted the company to assist with one of its launches.

OTB was responsible for tracking the ATV's final separation from the launch vehicle in the sky over New Zealand and relaying the data in real time to the launch control centre in Kourou.

According to information provided in the Airbus website, we have...

Once upon a time, South Africa used to manufacture - not just assemble - complete aircraft; the country even developed the capability to design aircraft. That is, this country developed the capacity to design complete airframes, and many of the avionics systems necessary to allow an aircraft to fly and to fight.

These achievements climaxed in the technically impressive but (so far) commercially unsuccessful Rooivalk attack helicopter, of which, to date, only 12 production aircraft have been built, all for the South African Air Force (SAAF). But in a country at peace, with no credible external threat currently conceivable, let alone visible, with high levels of poverty and underdevelopment, and the consequent prioritisation of spending on social welfare, education, and health, the funds are not available to sustain the design, development, and manufacture of manned aircraft in this country.Yet, losing the high-tech skills developed over the past four decades by the local aviation industry would be a severe blow to the country's high-technology industry base. But, if it is not financially practical for South Africa to design and build complete aircraft, it is still possible to design and build parts of aircraft. That is, a company that once designed and made complete airframes can still design and make what are called 'aero structures' - an aerostructure is a part of a complete airframe: for example, a vertical tail fin, or sections of the fuselage or wing. Much of South Africa's aero structures expertise resides in two companies: State-owned Denel, and private-sector Aerosud. And these companies are both partners in the A400M programme. "They are Level One partners - they have responsibility for the design and development, as well as the manufacture, of the components they have been assigned," says Airbus Military marketing vice-president David Jennings.

...Denel is responsible for the top shells for the centre fuselage section - these can be thought of as being equivalent to roof panels. Denel is producing two top shells for each aircraft - one each in front and behind the wing box, which joins the wing to the fuselage. In addition, the company is making very large wing/fuselage fairings, manufactured mainly from composite materials but including aluminium parts. Each such fairing is 15 m long, 7 m wide, and nearly 3 m high.Denel is also set to shortly start contributing the ribs and spars for the tail fin, and centre wing box structural components "All these are classified as primary structures," points out Jennings. Aerosud is mainly responsible for secondary structures. These are nose fuselage linings, cargo-hold linings, and cockpit linings, but the company is also making the cockpit rigid bulkhead, the wing tips, and the nose fuselage galleys. "The wing tips are quite important because they will contain elements of the aircraft's defence aids sub-system," he highlights. "Also, a sub-subcontract for the satellite communications antennas for the A400Ms has been awarded to Omnipless, part of the Chelton group, in Cape Town; they won this contract through an international tender, and entirely on their own merits," he stresses.

African initiatives...

Key African countries stepping up their space efforts

Published 1 Feb 08

For many, and Africans not the least of them, the idea of an African presence in space would seem to be an absurdity.

The continent does not have the resources – whether financial, technological, industrial, or human – to permit and sustain such a presence, or so it is generally believed.

This could not be more wrong. Africa is in space; the continent has a presence beyond this planet. At this moment, there are six African-owned and -operated satellites in orbit around the earth. Three are earth observation satellites and three are communications satellites.

Strikingly, not one of them is South African. Three are Egyptian, two are Nigerian, and one is Algerian.

Of course, South Africa has the distinction of being the first African country to design and build a satellite that entered orbit – SunSat 1. Designed, developed and built at the University of Stellenbosch, as a private initiative, SunSat 1 (an acronym for Stellenbosch University Satellite) was a 64-kg-mass microsatellite and was launched (free of charge) by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in February 1999 and performed well.

Why are African countries getting involved in space? Speaking only last month, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak asserted that scientific research is no longer a luxury but a necessity for every country that wishes to keep pace with the developments taking place in this age. He emphasised the close relationship between science and education on the one side, and development on the other.

In November 2005, then Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo stressed that space had great potential for helping Africa achieve its development goals. He argued that the continent’s future lay in its ability to develop space capabilities. “A society that fails to invest in the future may have no future at all,” he affirmed.

Addressing the Second African Leadership Conference on Space Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in Pretoria last October, South African Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena stated,“Governments and societies are now realising the enormous potential of space, and how it impacts our daily lives.

Space activities have always had a positive and beneficial impact on everyday life. Despite the high costs of space activities, there is a tremendous return to society in terms of job creation, technological know-how and scientific knowledge, and space spin-offs . . . Space activities contribute and have the potential to address five major societal challenges relating to the state of the environment, the use of natural resources, the increasing mobility of individuals and products and their consequences, growing security threats, and the shift towards an information society.”


Algeria created its space agency, the Agence Spatiale Algerienne (Asal), in January 2002. The creation of the agency was an outgrowth of a national research programme initiated in 2000 (the last year of the twentieth century).

Asal’s main missions are to promote the exploitation and peaceful use of space technologies to benefit the country’s economic, social and cultural development; to propose bilateral and multilateral space cooperation policies, consonant with national needs; to ensure that the engagements resulting from the obligations imposed upon the Algerian government by regional and international space cooperation agreements are followed up and assessed; to propose to government a national space strategy and to ensure that it is executed; to establish the infrastructure required to reinforce the country’s space capabilities; and to create synergies between national research institutions, industrial development institutions, and those who use the products generated by the space sector (for example, images).

The agency has a board of directors comprising representatives of 15 ministries, and a scientific board made up of experts in space science and technology.

Regarding space technologies and their applications, Asal’s main executive element is the Centre of Space Technologies (CTS), which is responsible for the execution of the national research programme in these spheres, in accordance with national needs regarding such matters as water reseources, agriculture, telecommunications, transport, and the environment, besides others.

The CTS has a hundred researchers organised into different divisions and research groups, working on different projects. These projects are in the areas of microsatellite technology; space-based telecommunications; space instruments; space geodesy and geomatics; and remote sensing.

In late November 2002, Algeria’s first satellite, the earth observation Alsat-1, was launched into orbit by a Russian Kosmos M3 rocket. Alsat-1 was designed and built by specialist British company Surrey Space Technologies Ltd (SSTL), with the participation of 11 Algerian specialists, as part of a technology transfer programme to equip Algeria to, in due course, design and build its own microsatellites.

Alsat-1 was also the first of SSTL’s MicroSat-100 or SSTL-100 class of microsatellites, and the first in the international Disaster Management Constellation (DMC) of satellites, which is a consortium currently composed of Algeria, China, Nigeria, Turkey, and the UK, each of which acquired and had launched a MicroSat-100 from SSTL.

While each member country owns its own satellite, and has its own ground control station, they can all access imagery from all the satellites, not just their own, and can transmit commands to their own spacecraft through other DMC member States’ control facilities.
Thus, each gets access to five satellites for the price of one. Coordination for the DMC is provided by SSTL subsidiary DMC Imaging International.

Alsat-1 has a mass of 90 kg, dimensions of 60 cm × 60 cm × 60 cm, and is in a sun synchro-nous orbit at an altitude of 680 km. Its imaging systems cover a swathe of 600 km × 560 km, and its multispectral imaging resolution is 32 m × 32 m. Alsat-1 had a designed life of five years but it is still operational and is expected to remain so for the foreseeable future.

In 2006, Algeria started a 15-year National Space Programme (2006 to 2020), which is aimed at greatly strengthening the country’s space infrastructure and increasing the number and capabilities of its space systems.

With regard to space infrastructure, Asal is creating a Satellite Development Centre (CDS), a Satellite Applications Centre (CAS), a Telecommunications Satellite Operations Centre (CEST), and a Doctoral School of Space Technologies and Applications (EDTAS).

The CDS will provide Asal with the means to design, develop and make the country’s future satellites. It will have electronics, electrical, optical, and mechanical laboratories, antenna and radio frequency test chambers, a thermal test chamber, a clean room for satellite and subsystems assembly and integration, and an environmental test building.

The CAS will undertake large-scale national space applications projects, develop decision support tools based on geographical information systems (GIS) and space technologies, technologically upgrade specialised remote sensing and GIS teams, and provide specialised training in space techniques for operational projects.

The CEST will promote the use of telecom- munications satellite services in Algeria, deal with the needs of the users of such services, take control of future telecommunications satellite services, and control the country’s future Alcomsat telecommunications satellite.

The EDTAS will provide PhD-level education in the spheres of space optics and precision mechanics, space computer science, space instrumentation, space imagery processing and GIS, and space-based telecommunications. In its first phase, the EDTAS involves 50 postgraduate students pursuing PhDs in these fields, at five Algerian universities.

Concerning space systems, Asal has projected a series of earth observation satellites – Alsat-1B, Alsat-2, Alsat-3, and Alsat-4 – and a telecom-munications satellite, Alcomsat-1.

The Alsat-2 programme, currently being executed with EADS Astrium in a contract that was awarded in February 2006, involves the construction of two satellites, Alsat-2A and Alsat-2B. Alsat-2A is currently being built by EADS Astrium, in Europe; 30 Algerian aerospace engineers are involved in the development and assembly of the satellite, which is based on European company Myriade’s satellite bus (platform). Six PhDs and eight MScs will receive academic training through the programme.

Alsat-2A is scheduled for launch late this year. However, Alsat-2B will be assembled by the CDS in Algeria using components supplied by EADS Astrium. It is reported that Alsat-2B will be launched in late 2009.

Each Alsat-2 satellite will have a mass of some 130 kg, and be equipped with a 2,5 m × 2,5 m resolution panchromatic imager and a 10 m × 10 m resolution multispectral (green, red, and near- infrared) imager. The swathe covered will be 17,5 km, and each will pass over any given point on earth once every three days.

Reportedly, Alsat-1B, about which little is known, will be launched after Alsat-2A but before Alsat-2B.

The Alcomsat-1 programme is in an earlier stage of development than the earth obser- vation satellite programme, and Asal is undertaking the necessary preparations for the issuing of a request for proposals. One of the objectives of the Alcomsat-1 project is to narrow the digital divide.


Only limited information is available about Egypt’s civilian space activities. They are, however, divided into two distinct aspects – science, predominantly earth observation, and tele- communications.

The scientific leg of Egypt’s space programme is the responsibility of the National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (Narss). Egyptian use of, and involvement in, remote sensing, space sciences and related applications date back to 1971. The country is known to have a sophisticated capability to receive and analyse satellite imagery.

Narss is subordinate to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. In 2001, Narss awarded a contract to the Ukraine’s Yuzhnoe State Design Office to develop Egypt’s first earth observation satellite, EgyptSat-1 (also known as MisrSat-1, Misr being Arabic for Egypt).

In terms of the contract, which Yuzhnoe won in an international competition, Egyptians had to be involved in the design and development of the satellite. As a result, up to 60 Egyptian scientists and engineers worked on the project, which lasted five years. The technology transferred by the Ukraine to Egypt covered the areas of design, manufacture, assembly, integration, and testing of satellites.

EgyptSat-1 was launched from Kazakhstan on a Ukrainian Dnipro-1 rocket in mid-April 2007. The satellite has a mass of 160 kg, is equipped with an infrared imager and a multispectral imager – no further details are available – and it was put into a solar-synchronous orbit.

At the launch, the Egyptians revealed that it was just the first in a planned series of earth observation satellites.

Reportedly, two follow-up satellites are already planned, to be designated EgyptSat-2 and SaharaSat.

But EgyptSat-1 is not the country’s first satellite. That honour goes to the Nilesat-101 telecommunications satellite, manufactured by the then Matra Marconi Space (now EADS Astrium) and launched from French Guiana on an Ariane 4 rocket in April 1998.

This also makes NileSat-101 the first African-owned and -operated satellite to enter orbit.

NileSat-101, which has a contracted lifespan of 12 years, has been followed and complemented by Nilesat-102, manufactured by the same company and launched in mid-August 2000. Between them, these two satellites broadcast more than 150 digital TV channels as well as providing data transmission, Internet, and multicasting services.

They are both operated by the Egyptian satellite company, Nilesat, founded in 1996 and listed on the Cairo & Alexandria Stock Exchange, although predominantly held by State-owned corporations. The company, which falls under the aegis of the Ministry of Information, also leases the Atlantic Bird 4 telecommunications satellite, now repositioned and redesignated Nilesat-103.


Nigeria established its National Space Research and Development Agency (Nasrda) in April 1999. The country’s national space policy and programmes were approved in June 2001. Nigeria’s objective is to use space technology to improve the quality of life of its people through sustainable management of its natural resources, and by stimulating technological and industrial development.

Nasrda has six operational centres – the Centre for Basic Space Science and Astronomy, the National Centre for Remote Sensing, the Centre for Satellite Technology Development, the Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics, the African Regional Centre for Space Science and Technology Education, and the Centre for Space Transport and Propulsion. Oversight is provided by the National Space Council, headed by the President and assisted by two committees, the Technical Advisory Committee and the International Cooperation Committee.

Like Algeria, Nigeria turned to SSTL to provide its first satellite, the earth observation NigeriaSat-1. A sister to Alsat-1, NigeriaSat-1 was launched in late September 2003 on a Russian Kosmos rocket. It also forms part of the international DMC constellation. As with Algeria, technology and expertise transfer was part of the programme, and 15 Nigerian scientists and engineers were involved in the development and assembly of NigeriaSat-1.

Nasrda has continued its association with SSTL, with two parallel projects – the NX and NigeriaSat-2. Like NigeriaSat-1, NX is based on the SSTL-100, but is being developed by a team of 25 Nigerian trainee enegineers at SSTL’s facilities in England.

The Nigerian engineers will completely manage the total lifecycle of the NX and will be responsible for the delivery of the satellite to full flight specification. The NX will be equipped with a multispectral imaging system with a resolution of 22 m × 22 m, and covering a ground swathe of 600 km.

NigeriaSat-2, however, is based on the UK company’s new SSTL-300 design. This has a mass of 300 kg but will be more agile than the SSTL-100. NigeriaSat-2 will give Nasrda a platform providing high-resolution images, as it will be equipped with a 2,5 m × 2,5 m panchromatic imager, a four-band 5 m × 5 m multispectral imager, and a four-band 32 m × 32 m multispectral imager. It is scheduled for launch in October 2009, and the agency hopes that it will be able to launch the NX at the same time, on the same rocket.

Nigeria, like Egypt, is also seeking to benefit from the telecommunications opportunities provided by space. In December 2004, the country awarded a contract, following an international bidding process, to the China Great Wall Industry Corporation, to design and build a telecommunications satellite, NigComSat-1.

This was launched from China in May last year. NigComSat-1 has a mass of more than 5 t and carries 40 transponders (not all yet active) in the Ku, Ka, C and L bands. It has a designed lifespan of 15 years. Planned applications include telemedicine and tele-education.

Two teaching hospitals and six federal primary healthcare centres, along with one mobile unit, have already been linked with the satellite.

Meanwhile, on the ground, construction of Nasrda’s main site started in June 2005 and was commissioned in April 2007. It includes the administration block, the satellite technology complex, the earth observation ground station, a planetarium, and a conference centre, and is designated the Obasanjo Space Centre, Abuja.

In addition to these activities, Nasrda’s Centre for Space Transport and Propulsion, based at Epe, in Lagos State, is seeking to acquire the technologies and expertise to design and build space rockets to launch satellites. The Nigerians recognise that they have a long way to go to achieve this, and that it will require cooperation with other countries, both within Africa and beyond the continent.

South Africa

South Africa is currently in the ironic position of being the only African country with an indigenous satellite design and manufacturing capability, with the biggest and best ground support infrastructure and capability on the continent, yet it does not currently have any oper- ating satellites in orbit, nor a space agency to direct and coordinate its space activities. This odd situation should come to an end this year.

South Africa’s second (but first State-commissioned and -owned) satellite, Sumbandila, should be launched later this year. Sumbandila was originally meant to have been launched last year, from a Russian submarine, but, through no fault of South Africa’s, the launch was significantly delayed. It is now hoped that the satellite will lift off in early September, most probably still on a Russian rocket, although it is unlikely to be from a submarine.

There is, however, a possibility that Sumbandila could be launched by an Indian rocket.

The issue is very sensitive, and South Africa regards a launch by the Russians as the best option, but the country cannot wait indefinitely and alternatives are under consideration.

The new satellite has been designed and assembled by Sun Space & Information Systems (SunSpace), a successful specialist microsatellite technology company spun off by the University of Stellenbosch, to exploit the expertise developed in the design, assembly, and operation of SunSat 1. Sumbandila is a low earth orbit observation microsatellite with a mass of 81 kg and its main payload is a 6,5 m × 6,5 m multispectral imager. This imager was also designed, developed, and made by SunSpace.

SunSpace now has a range of satellites it can offer customers, ranging in mass from 50 kg to 400 kg, as well as subsystems for satellites. The company is also in a joint programme with Europe to develop the Multispectral Microsatellite Imager. South Africa has invested R17-million in this project while the European contribution is €1-million.

Although Sumbandila – the name means ‘lead the way’ in the Venda language – is expected to be only the first in a series of South African satellites, the country, unlike Algeria, Egypt, and Nigeria, has not actually announced that there will be follow-up spacecraft.

The second half of this year should also see the establishment of the South African Space Agency (Sasa). The Space Agency Bill has been approved by the Cabinet and was opened for public comment.

The Department of Science and Technology is setting up an interim administrative office as a precursor to Sasa, to prepare the groundwork for the new institution, and negotiations are under way to transfer existing space-related assets to the new agency.

South Africa has been involved in the space age from the beginning. The country’s first satellite tracking facility, located at Esselen Park (in Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni, east of Johannesburg), became operational in the first quarter of 1958.

This was soon moved to Hartebeeshoek, west of Pretoria (see Engineering News, January 18, 2002). Although a US initiative, the facility was staffed by South Africans and subsequently transferred to South African control: it expanded and developed thereafter and today it is the Satellite Applications Centre (SAC) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. The SAC has agreements with every major satellite operating company in the world and with most, if not all, space agencies; not only does it receive imagery and data from many satellites but it also tracks and controls spacecraft for clients.

South Africa’s status in the area of satellite imagery reception, analysis, and exploitation is evidenced by the fact that this country is one of the members (along with the US and other leading powers) of the international committee overseeing the development of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (Geoss). Geoss is nothing less than a programme to coordinate all satellite-based earth observation systems, ensure rapid information flow between them, and identify gaps in Earth observation which can then be closed.

The country even had a military space programme during the 1980s, aimed at launching a spy satellite; this was terminated in the early 1990s (see Engineering News, June 23, 2000, and July 7, 2000) but various support facilities remain. One of these is the satellite ground station complex at the Overberg test range, near Bredasdorp, in the Western Cape, while the other is the Houwteq satellite integration facility near Grabouw, also in the Western Cape.

Further, Houwteq is the base of the Institute for Satellite and Software Applications, which has ground test facilities for satellites, allowing space environment tests, vibration tests, and operational tests (continuously running a satellite and its systems for a long time). Sumbandila has been tested at Houwteq.

South Africa was also one of the earliest members of Intelsat, and, at another site at Hartebeeshoek, telecommunications parastatal Telkom operates an Earth station for telecommunications satellites. Sentech and Orbicomm also have facilities to receive television transmissions from satellites.

Until now, however, political and budgetary responsibility for these institutions and facilities have been widely scattered, involving the departments of Science and Technology, Trade and Industry, Communications, Transport, and National Education. The fact that many space activities are governed by international treaties means that the Department of Foreign Affairs also has an important role.


In reality, there is not, and cannot be, an African space race. None of Africa’s countries, not even South Africa, has the resources to sustain even a minor analogue to the great US/USSR competition of the 1950s to the 1980s, or to the new space race that seems to be emerging in Asia, between China, India, and Japan. On the contrary, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa all explicitly acknowledge the need for international cooperation, bilateral and multilateral, within and beyond Africa.

A symbol of this is the proposed African Resource Management Satellite (Arms) constellation, involving Algeria, Kenya (which hosts Italian space facilities), Nigeria, and South Africa. The first workshop on Arms was held in Algeria in May 2005, followed by a second in South Africa, in September that same year, and a third workshop in Nigeria that November. Various requirements, options and missions were discussed, and committees and sub- committees were set up.

Further workshops were held in Algiers in July 2006 and in Pretoria in October 2007. It has been agreed that the Arm constellation satellites will each be equipped with a 3 m × 3 m resolution panchromatic imager and a 12 m × 12 m resolution multispectral imager, operating in the blue, green, red and near-infrared bands. The next workshop should be held this year in Kenya, where a declaration of intent will hopefully be signed.

Meanwhile, other, poorer, African countries are benefiting from the UN programme for space science and technology education, which has seen the establishment around the developing world of Regional Centres for Space Science and Technology Education. These train specialists in satellite imagery analysis and the use of space-based geographical information systems.

Two of these centres are in Africa – one in Morocco, the other in Nigeria, both established in 1998. The Moroccan centre serves Francophone Africa; and the Nigerian, which is fully funded by the Nigerian government, serves Anglophone Africa. Countries which have benefited from these Centres include Botswana, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

...more initiatives...

Published: 14 Mar 08

Science and technology has the potential to make a strong and positive impact on the African continent, says Minister of Science and Technology Mosibudi Mangena, but its profile needs to increase markedly in order for that impact to be felt.

“Throughout Africa, we need, for example, to find affordable but durable building materials to replace bricks and mortar, increase food security and develop a sustainable supply of affordable, safe and environment-friendly forms of energy. “Our ability to address these and other challenges is determined by our scientific and technological capabilities,” said Mangena at the Siemens Profile awards for journalists, in Johannesburg, last month.

He said that, already, science and technology ministers from all African Union (AU) member countries are working together to harness science and technology for Africa’s development. Under the umbrella of the African Ministers Council on Science and Technology, or Amcost, the ministers have set continental priorities and policies that are relevant to the development and application of science and technology for Africa’s economic transformation.

In 2005, at the second Amcost meeting, Africa’s Science and Technology Consolidated Plan of Action, a wide-ranging five-year plan to promote science and technology on the continent, was approved. The plan merges the science and technology programmes of the AU and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. The political and policy leadership for the plan’s implementation is provided by Amcost, which is a body tasked with, besides others, facilitating cooperation among African countries in the use and application of science and technology to attain the Millennium Development Goals.

“It is very encouraging that a number of African governments have already begun to take ownership of the process. “This is an open and transparent process; we would like to see the media, as key players in a democratic civil society, doing more to bridge the gap between science, scientists, policymakers and the people of our country.Africa’s stories and achievements in science and technology have never been given the publicity they deserve.

The continent needs journalists to do its marketing and advocacy work, not only in the political arena, but, even more importantly, in promoting its science and technology agenda. Although we have not yet seen the media working with us to the required extent in the sharing of science information, we trust that an event like this will put the spotlight on the need for science writers and editors in all newsrooms to play their role more aggressively in this regard,” Mangena said.

In a recent study of 15 South African publications, by Stellenbosch University, it was found that, on average, less than 2% of editorial space deals with science. A large percentage of published reports (about 38%) originates from news agencies, while in-depth articles are few and far between, and almost three-quarters of published material appears as brief reports or snippets.

“We should all be concerned about these findings, as they mean that the public is not being kept abreast of what is happening in the world of science and technology. The Stellenbosch study also argues that the availability of information on the positive and negative impact of the developments in science and technology is paramount to the effective functioning of a democracy. Some might consider this an outrageous statement, but bear in mind that information and education enable people to make informed choices,” he warned.

He pointed out that a matter of grave concern to the national system of innovation is the scarcity of science journalists.

“As much as we are agonising to find innovative ways of making mathematics and science interesting and fun to the learners in our schools, we are equally concerned that the South African public is adequately lobbied and informed about the value of science and technology in society. “In order to achieve these objectives, we need to recruit many more journalists to report on science and technology stories. “There are many new discoveries in fields such as biotechnology, astronomy, indigenous knowledge, medicine and psychology, that our citizens need to know about. “It has, therefore, become imperative that we engage with media houses to find ways of increasing the number and the quality of science journalists in our country.”

SA-designed mine-protected vehicle scores another US win...

Published: 4 Apr 08

Picture by: BAE Systems Land Systems OMC FORGING AHEAD: Benoni-based BAE Systems Land Systems OMC's mine-protected vehicle designs are proving popular with the US. Here, an RG31 Mk 5E.

The South African-designed RG33 mine-protected vehicle family has won yet another major contract from the US Department of Defence (DoD). Although the vehicles concerned will be manufactured in the US, millions of rands in royalties will come to Benoni-based BAE Systems Land Systems OMC (Land Systems OMC), where the RG33 family was designed and developed.

The new order is the latest in the DoD’s continuing mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle acquisition programme. With a total value of $234-million, the latest contract involves the manufacture of three RG33 4 × 4 command vehicles for the US Special Forces, 51 RG33 6 × 6 ambulance variants, and 393 RG33 6 × 6 MRAP Category II variants. Category II vehicles have multimission capabilities, including acting as lead vehicles for convoys, troop transport, ambulance, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), and combat engineering. (Category I vehicles are intended as urban combat vehicles which can transport six people.)

Production will take place at three BAE Systems facilities in the US – at York, Pennsylvania; Aiken, South Carolina; and, Fairfield, Ohio. Deliveries will start in August and be finished by November this year.

This takes to 2 182 the number of RG33 4 × 4 and RG33 6 × 6 MRAP vehicles ordered by the DoD from BAE Systems Ground Systems division in the US. In addition, 624 of Land Systems OMC’s RG31 Mk 5E MRAP vehicles have also been acquired by the US, of which 305 were manufactured in Benoni. Local production of this batch was completed on February 27, this year.

The RG33 is a medium-weight vehicle with a gross vehicle mass of 22 t – which means it can be airlifted in a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft which is, for the Americans, a tactical aircraft – with a payload capacity of 7 t. It features a V-shaped hull of the latest design, providing enhanced protection, and is armoured against 7,62-mm machine-gun fire. Its large, armoured windows provide excellent vision for its crew and embarked troops, and the vehicle can itself mount a machine gun – fitted with an armoured but transparent shield for the gunner – or, alternatively, a remotely controlled weapons station.

Operating in a troop transport role, it can carry a driver and from 9 to 11 passengers. However, when fitted with a robotic arm, the vehicle is more likely to be used in more specialist roles. It has a modular interior, dedicated equipment stowage space, and the power generation capacity to run electronic mission equipment and the air conditioning system (essential, not luxurious, in the desert summer). The RG33 can also be fitted with a hydraulic ramp, extra add-on armour, a 6-kW auxiliary power unit, a tail light camera, a secondary battery suite, and a thermal driver’s vision enhancer, besides other options. Because of the modular nature of its interior, the baseline RG33 can be easily adapted to fulfil a number of roles, such as infantry carrier, EOD, convoy protection, weapons carrier, utility, command and control, and communications.

The RG31 is a 4 × 4 vehicle with a V-shaped monocoque welded steel hull, and comes in armoured personnel carrier (APC), ambulance, and utility vehicle variants. In APC form, it can accommodate a driver and up to nine other troops. The utility version can carry cargo or mount weapons, such as an 81-mm mortar, or a 106-mm recoilless rifle, or a 20-mm cannon. The RG31 Mk 5 has a 205-kW powerplant. Maximum speed is 105 km/h. The Mark 5 is 6,6 m in length, has a width of 2,47 m, a height of 2,727 m, a wheelbase of 3,425 m, and a ground clearance of 0,389 m. The payload is 3 700 kg.

Sources for the last few extracts:

These pieces demonstrate a few examples of scientific and technological activity and pursuits in the African continent, but this extends well into ordinary consumer goods industry for the civilian base of the society, which is *relatively* more widespread on the continent than the aforementioned complex industries of aerospace and the defense sector. For instance, when was the last time you've heard of a Moroccan supercar? Well, just think of an indigenous make by aspirant, designer & developer Mr. Laraki, who also owns other concerns like the yatch designing and building business. The automobile industry is actually more widespread on the African continent than most outsiders/non-Africans might think. Key services like internet access is also more widespread than some outsiders presume, which are important enhancers of global communication; these sectors continue to grow. Some people of course, look at some of these aforementioned industrial activities and simply dismiss them as exploitation by foreign "investors" or transnational corporations. This may well be the case in various instances, but the point is that socio-economic development in these areas are not evenly distributed across the continent; they vary in Africa as they do in any other continent, and yet, African nations, regardless of their actual socio-economic outlook, are placed into one big basket case, which is more often than not, stereotyped via the socio-economic outlook of the most weak economies of the continent.

The point is also, that foreign investment or "exploitation"—if we are to be technical about it—is no different from elsewhere, particularly the so-called "Third World". Some even go as far as attributing negative "homogenous" misbranding of the continent to widespread political corruption and inter-ethnic conflicts, as if these were largely confined to Africa. Fact is, ruling administrations in most geographical regions are corrupt and ruthless, if not even more so than African counterparts in some cases. Conflicts/wars are by no means confined to Africa either. Many ruling administrations in Africa to varying degrees, are militarily and/or financially backed by the "traditional rich industrial" economies of Europe and America. Hence, many of these governments find it easier to thumb their nose at the general populace, and not be held accountable for repressive actions and corruption. The main difference between many African statesmen and those elsewhere, is that there are relatively more gutless ones amongst them than elsewhere, hence the more "compliant" regimes, when it comes to the relationship between foreign exploiters and the said despotic regimes.

Many regimes elsewhere took it upon themselves to be "cooperative" with the imperialist regimes of "Western Europe", USSR and the U.S., but not too cooperative, as the case is commonly found in Africa. As a result, some regimes didn't strictly adhere to "trade" agreements dictated by the "traditional rich industrial" economies or nations—mainly to the advantage of the rich economies—and instead, engaged in what can be bluntly put as "local industry protectionism" [through subsidies and high import tariff regimes], as well as covertly "stealing" technology. This allowed fledgling local industry to grow, by not being exposed to unfettered competition from bigger and more established large transnational corporations of foreign origin, while allowing for expansion of the local technological base and favorable growth of the "middle class" for the home market. In fact, these are the sort of fraudulent undertakings, in terms "bilateral trade agreements" [using "international" vehicles like WTO, for instance], with which most of the "traditional rich industrial" nations enriched themselves, not leaving out the additional and important contribution of colonial occupation.

With the growth of local industry through "protectionism", nations were able to develop sufficiently large home markets for their local industry, and only when they became large enough to compete globally, did governments relax "protectionism", but all the while doing everything possible to deter fledgling industries of the economically less advantaged nations from flourishing, by telling the governments of those nations to not resort to "protectionism" for the sake of "fair trade". Variably, governments of those "less advantaged nations" of course, cooperated accordingly, to the peril of their own economies—this seems to be the case for many, though not all, economies in Africa.

Part of the reason had to do with military pressure from the more "traditionally" wealthier economies, and part of it had to do with debt-regime leveraging by those wealthy economies. When many of the formerly colonized regions of Africa got their so-called "independence", many of them also inherited debts incurred by the colonial regimes. Moreover, as many sections of their societies were devastated by lack of social spending under colonial occupation, many of the "newly independent" African regimes had to borrow money, in many cases from the very same colonial regimes that they sought to free themselves from, for social reconstruction programs. As a result, many ended up incurring hefty debts, which former colonial regimes sought to exploit and use as economic leverage to place dictates on the "newly independent" and usually weak economies. The vehicles used to utilize debt-regimes as leverage, are the likes of IMF and World Bank. Political leverage was continued through the setting up of institutions like the United Nations, and the undemocratic and "permanent" membership of certain "wealthy" nations therein.

Another reason in the mix, not to be dismissed, is greed of leadership—which largely draw from the relatively thin layer of the African bourgeois. The interests of these layers are usually distant from that of the general working class of their societies, and hence, it is no wonder they have contempt for those sections of their societies, and are willing to sacrifice their cause, by readily cooperating with leadership of the more economically affluent nations, whereby such "alliance" proceeds to exploit the said working class. Some folks paint the picture of a merely one-sided exploitation, wherein the ruling elites & financial oligarchy of the economically more affluent imperialist nations stand to benefit while Africans don't, but such observations are quite simplistic. They fail to take into account the greedy thin layer of the African ruling elite & financial oligarchy, which also stand to benefit from such exploitation. The attitude underlying such "alliance for exploitation" of the African working class [and those of many less advantaged "newly independent" nations] seems to go along the line of, "hey, if you can't beat them, then join them"
! Mobutu of Zaire, for instance, had a huge bank account outside of his country, filled with state money, parceled out as personal property—with the knowledge and tacit approval of so-called rich nations of the "West". Why?—Quite simply, because despotic figures like Mobutu were considered to be very reliable "allies", who were quite "compliant" to the imperialist dictates of the so-called rich "Western nations".

Once many of the former "nationalist" leaders—many of whom came from the bourgeois social layer and were educated outside their nations at the time, usually in the home countries of their colonial "masters" or regimes—achieved the so-called "independence" and therefore attained the "freedom" to exploit their society just as their "colonial masters" did, as time went by, they slowly abandoned any pretense of caring for the masses of their society, and along with it, social they were ultimately faced with social situations for which they had no real solutions. Some were forced to make decisions over time, especially with the demise of the USSR—which was used as a geopolitical "counterweight" to the imperialist economies of the U.S. and/or its western European "allies", in terms of positioning ruling elites of "newly independent" states to obtain some leeway in "bargaining" with or receiving geopolitical "concessions" from the said imperialist nations, which would result in the breakdown of cooperative relationship with their former colonial or neo-colonial "masters", and hence, causing them to be treated as "rogue" regimes by the latter. Regimes like those of Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro and so forth, come to mind as recent examples.

The short term solution for African progress in the meantime, and indeed in much of the "developing" markets of the so-called Third World, is for debt-regime imperialist institutions like the World Bank and IMF to be done away with—along with debts unfairly incurred as a result of the barbaric policies of colonization, major transformations in the WTO, which would allow "emerging" or "developing" markets to catch up to the wealthier nations and then be expected to engage in real "fair trade" policies—which all trading partners are expected abide by, and the democratization of the United Nations [1]. The long term solution would entail "real" social revolution, which would require doing away with artificial "divide and conquer" colonial boundaries drawn by the former ruthless colonial (occupation) regimes or administrations.

Note: This posting is subject to change or updating without notice.
[1] - loosely based on George Monbiot's idea.