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Satellite fixation not limited to South Asia

The following story about Ethiopia, a country still listed as a least-developed country (LDC), wanting to put up its own communication and earth-sensing satellites caught my eye, because this is a perennial story in South Asia.

In January the government said it would launch a Chinese-built civilian satellite from an overseas rocket pad within the next five years. It would be designed to Ethiopian specifications and used to monitor crops and the weather, and doubtless to spy on neighbours, too. The government also wants to reduce reliance on foreign telecoms by launching its own communications satellite.

In putting its own satellites into orbit Ethiopia would join the select club of African nations that have already done so. Nigeria has paid for the launch of five since 2003, some of which it says have helped fight terrorism. South Africa has also put several home-built satellites into space. Egypt launched two earth-observation ones, both of which have since failed; a private company, Nilesat, successfully operates communications ones. Kenya, Angola and Ghana are eager to join them.

Two explanations are possible. One is that these kinds of big capital cost intensive activities are attractive because of kickbacks. Lacking evidence, I rely on the second, which I explained in a column published in 2015:

In the 1960s, the highest-profile use was for telecommunication, where massive antenna connected to a single satellite provided a qualitatively superior solution for international backhaul over the extant methods of copper cables wrapped in gutta-percha or radio waves that bounced off the ionosphere. Here, the satellite appeared stationary relative to earth because it was in the Clarke or geostationary orbit. That technological revolution of their youth appears have been deeply imprinted in the minds of today’s decision makers.

– See more here.

This explanation is based on an insight of John Maynard Keynes that decision makers who do not actively keep up with new knowledge and theory tend to fall back on whatever they absorbed in their twenties. So to understand the actions of politicians and official of today we need to examine what ideas they were exposed to in their twenties. That is my favored explanation for satellite fixation.

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