It is interesting how interconnected our world has become. Earlier this week I traveled to Cairo for a mere 12 hours to attend a meeting and came back home just in time to start the next day without missing a beat. This shuttling in and out of countries had me thinking about Space X.
What is Space X you ask? Well, its proper name is the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation and it was founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla, with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars. Yes, I am referring to the planet Mars. They have had a few attempts, some successful others not, of launching their space shuttle into orbit. They have started the long road to recruiting people interested in being the first humans to start a colony on Mars.
What I find remarkable about this program is that it is a private venture. It is not run by some government; rather it is run by one of the top hundredth richest person. With an estimated wealth of over 13 billion, Elon Musk’s wealth is larger than the GDPs of certain countries. Granted, he is not funding this out of his pocket, he has investors, large ones too. It is, however, quite remarkable that an individual’s efforts are behind what is most likely the next frontier in human history.
While reading up on this topic, I came across an article with a very interesting title that has been making the rounds on social media. The title of the article is “Why Ethiopia is building a space program”. The tone of the title as well as the article can easily be summed by one question posed by the author “But do countries like Ethiopia need to own, build, or launch their own satellites to reap these benefits?” After naming a few failed attempts by different African countries and mentioning that the there are companies or countries that already have these satellites that offer the services needed by such countries for a fee, the author states Ethiopia’s attempts might be futile. The author further argues that Ethiopia has “few scientists that have the expertise to make use of the flood of cheap data”.
In the end the author concludes “at a time when 5.6 million Ethiopians need emergency food aid because of a drought, it seems an odd priority”. I find the simplistic logic in this article to be amusing. There seems to be an assumption that development and growth are linear processes. It’s as though a country cannot have dreams and aspirations until it has reached a certain level of growth. The fact of the matter is, development happens at the same time as life, one does not stop living and planning until it reaches it.
The underline message of this article is: poor countries need not have ambition outside of getting out of poverty, i.e. space programs are a luxury they need not, better yet, cannot engage in. This view is the same reasoning that would like to maintain developing countries as consumers of goods and services by developed countries, until they get out of poverty which does not really happen because they are too busy trying to secure the funds to pay for these services by the developed countries, enter bank loans and interests, and the cycle is complete. It is the cycle that African countries are stuck in and have been trying to break from.
The solution to coming out of poverty is not reigning in our ambition, but playing the long game and investing in long term solutions. This is not to say that priorities should not exist, they certainly should, rather there have to be some difficult decisions to be made at the leadership stage taking into account where they envision the country to be and the role it can assume in the future.
In the end, telling someone that they are too poor to dream is not criticism, it is downright insulting.