Commentary | The space superpower of the future

How Nigeria could become a leader in global space research

While a student at the International Space University in Strasbourg, I had the good fortune of being taught the art of futures thinking by award-winning futurist James Dator, founder of the Institute for Alternative Futures. While for some of the futurist practitioners out there, futures thinking is about trying to make predictions using technical methods, including trend extrapolation, economic and technical forecasting, and simulation of change processes; Dator’s philosophy is that the future cannot be predicted, because “the future doesn’t exist.” Instead, futures research and forecasting should be directed toward developing and understanding “alternative futures.”

I understand the skepticism one feels when one first hears about futures thinking without having learned about it – it sounds almost cultist. But it’s actually a fascinating endeavour that teaches you about yourself, the views you hold, why you hold them, and where they came from. It’s akin to history in the sense that you must understand where you are coming from to have any idea of where you are going. The best thing about futures thinking is that it gets you to look at things from the perspective of how you want the future to be, and most importantly to look for feasible ways to bring about your chosen future. Or, under Dator’s alternative futures theory, it gets you to set out different images of possible or imagined futures, an exercise that can have “terrestrial” applications alongside the “spacey” ones that Dator’s research emphasizes.

So in my alternate imagined future, what do I see? I see my mother land Nigeria as the leading space-faring nation in Africa. I see a series of satellites designed, manufactured, and launched from Nigeria. I see high school kids opting to study science and engineering so they can contribute to Nigeria’s goal to be a space super power. I also see a 24-hour continuous electricity supply.

To make such visions a reality, we must commit to continuous development of our human capital and give people the tools to not only imagine this future but to be able to actualize it. This is no mean feat for any country, let alone a developing one that still struggles with the basics of electricity supply. In 1962, John F. Kennedy stated in his now-world-famous speech “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

For my imagined future to be a reality, we must rid our society of the cankerworm that is corruption. This pervasive evil vice, to some almost synonymous with the name “Nigeria,” means that despite the goals, ambitions, plans, and targets, expected outcomes do not always materialize. But, credit must always be given where it is due, so that we do not neglect the initiatives that actually are meeting their objectives. We have a space centre that is on its way to rivalling others internationally; we have trained over 100 engineers in satellite technology; we have two Earth observation satellites that are providing international services (and one built by Nigerian engineers); and among other things we have a telecommunications satellite on the way that will provide efficient communication services at a fraction of the price of those currently offered. That the Nigerian Space Agency has been able to achieve all this in just ten years, compared to other government agencies, is a testament that with the right vision and the right people in charge, anything is possible. In my imagined future, tomorrow’s leaders of the Nigerian space agenda will see these feats as but a stepping stone and take the great leap that is needed to catapult Nigeria beyond her status as a giant of Africa, to a giant of the world.

Timiebi Aganaba is a LL.M Air and Space Law student. Write her at timiebi.aganaba@mail.mcgill.ca.


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