Ethiopia achieved a milestone on 26 August when the country announced the formal launch of its own space program initiative. Billed as the first such program in East Africa, and the third on the continent (South Africa and Nigeria already have similar efforts underway), the program ‘launched’ with the opening of its observatory atop 3,200-meter Mount Entoto.
Predictably, the program has faced both internal and external criticism from professional aid providers and government bureaucrats, who cite the country’s entrenched poverty and malnutrition as more important priorities. But Solomon Belay, the new observatory’s director and long-time defender, believes that the program can act as a developmental asset by promoting engineering and sciences domestically, and by creating jobs.
The tipping point came when the program received financial backing and support from Ethiopian-Saudi billionaire Mohammed Alamoudi, Ethiopia’s richest man. Now the government is fully on board, with plans to build a new and more powerful observatory on a mountain far removed from the bright lights of Addis Ababa. Plans are also in the works to launch a national satellite within five years, which can be used to monitor agricultural development and create a national communications network.