Djibouti, a small country in the Horn of Africa, has signed a $1 billion deal to build Africa’s first rocket-launch facility. It signed the deal with Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group, which will manage the site for the first 30 years before handing it over to Djiboutian authorities.
The project will take five years to complete and will also include “the construction of a port and highway of international standing in the northern region of Obock for the transport of materials necessary for the development of aerospace sites,” President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Guelleh said in a statement on Monday.
“The agreement provides for the final concession of the infrastructure built to the Djiboutian side after 30 years of co-management,” the statement added.
Temidayo Oniosun, the Managing Director of the consultancy firm Space in Africa, believes building the rocket-launch facility is a “very important” step because Africa currently has no functional rocket and satellite launch site. Oniosun told BBC that the aim of Djibouti was to have an “international launch site” where any company from across the world could launch satellites.
Space expert Oniosun said rocket launch companies could save money and fuel when they launch their satellites in Djibouti since the country is comparatively close to the equator.
But there could be a problem. Djibouti might find it “politically difficult” to attract companies from countries that do not have a good relationship with China, Oniosun explained. As already mentioned, Chinese authorities would be managing the site for some time.
Djibouti borders Somalia in the south and the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in the east and that makes it strategically important for military superpowers. It already houses the United States’ biggest military facility on the African continent. China, France and Japan also have military bases in the country.
The country’s China and U.S. military bases are only a few kilometers apart. In 2020, it was reported that Djibouti was capitalizing on its strategic location on one of the world’s busiest trade routes to build Africa’s largest free trade zone area.