Djibouti, a small country in the Horn of Africa, has agreed to build Africa’s first rocket launch facility for $1 billion. The agreement was signed with the 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 include “the construction of a port and highway of international standing in the northern region of Obock for the transport of materials required for the development of aerospace sites,” said Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh 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, Managing Director of Space in Africa, believes that building the rocket-launch facility is a “very important” step because Africa currently lacks a functional rocket and satellite launch site. According to Oniosun, the goal of Djibouti is to have a “international launch site” where any company from around the world can launch satellites.
Rocket launch companies could save money and fuel by launching satellites in Djibouti, according to space expert Oniosun, because the country is close to the equator.
But there could be an issue. According to Oniosun, Djibouti may find it “politically difficult” to attract companies from countries that do not have a good relationship with China. As previously stated, Chinese authorities would manage the site for some time.
Djibouti is strategically important for military superpowers because it borders Somalia in the south and the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in the east. It already houses the largest US military base on the African continent. China, France, and Japan have military bases in the country as well.
The country’s military bases in China and the United States are only a few kilometers apart. Djibouti was reported to be building Africa’s largest free trade zone area in 2020, capitalizing on its strategic location on one of the world’s busiest trade routes.