THE INTERVIEW Leroy Dzenga
LD: Please unpack for us what the recently launched ZINGSA is all about.
AM: ZINGSA is the Zimbabwe National Geospatial and Space Agency, which is established in terms of section 24 as read with section 25 and 26 of the Research Act of Zimbabwe, Chapter 10:22.
ZINGSA’ objectives are to promote peaceful use of space, to support the creation of an environment that is conducive to industrial development and space technology, to foster research and geospatial science and earth observation.
It also seeks to enhance space science, space engineering, communications, navigation and space physics.
It also has within its mandate, a duty to advance scientific engineering and technological competences and capabilities through human capital, outreach programmes and infrastructure development.
ZINGSA will also lead in establishing international cooperation in space-related activities.
LD: How will the existence of ZINGSA benefit ordinary Zimbabweans?
AM: We know that Zimbabwe does not have adequate geospatial science and space science capabilities which are the technologies of the future. We are planning for Zimbabwe`s future now. We want to use space knowledge for developing our agriculture sector, using satellite technology we are able to assess crop condition, crop diseases, we are also able to have databases on soil conditions also on fertilizer requirements of different soils.
The most important thing to note is that a country is a map and in order to manage it we must be able to know where everything is, in what condition it is and what we can do with it, to advance in this country. In the agricultural sector we are looking at issues of crop surveillance, drought monitoring, weather monitoring for purposes of productivity.
On the other issue as a country, we always say Zimbabwe is rich in mineral resources but if you ask a person “where are the minerals?” “How much are they? And in what condition are the minerals?”
No one can give you an answer. It is because Zimbabwe over the years has not had any exploration capabilities of note, you will find that the last exploration activities in this country which were done through Government agencies, were in the early 1980s most of the ones were in the 1960s.
So, satellite technology enables us to be able to do explorations. We are sometimes in an unfortunate situation whereby even with investors when you are negotiating, you are negotiating from a weak point because they would have used satellite technology to see what we have. So when they come here and they say, we want to go to Karoi and do explorations, they would have already explored using satellite technology. So, when you are negotiating for multibillion dollar deals, you have to negotiate from a point of strength. That point of strength is a point whereby we already know what we have and we can negotiate for the industrial development of this country in terms of minerals.
You are able to take control of agriculture and mineral resources. So, this is about knowing your country better and knowing its potential as well as negotiating on its behalf based on knowledge. All this knowledge can come through the geospatial and space science capability.
We also have a lot of energy investments in this country like solar energy, wind energy, biomass energy. We need to be able to plan for these things using geospatial technology. The energy future of this country will be determined very well through ZINGSA.
There is also disaster management, every year between January and March, we are having floods and you know our meteorological services issues warnings based on satellite imagery and that`s space.
Right now we are using technologies that other countries are developing to do disaster management, there is no problem in doing that but there is importance for recognition so that we begin to be able to participate meaningfully in these issues.
All these things are now being done on space, the national impact of ZINGSA is for us to have appropriate sector policy advice which will be timeous. We are also going to have high end skills in Zimbabwe based on this.
LD: How will the agency be structured?
We are looking at core technologies for national development, but in order to do this, we have organised ZINGSA into four founding technical departments plus an administrative department. The first technical department is the geospatial science and earth observation department, its purpose is to utilise imagery that comes from satellites whether they are coming from our own satellites or other satellites to produce information that is relevant to this country.
Then we have got space operations and launch services department which will be responsible for launch services.
We have a space science department that will be looking at the basic science of space.
The space engineering department will be looking at issues of aeronautical and astronautical engineering looking at activities like making drones, spacecraft and all other related gadgets including global satellite navigation systems.
Lastly, there is the finance and administration department which is needed in any organisation for it to operationalise.
LD: Some are of the opinion that the agency is not a priority at a time the country is faced by other immediate challenges, like the cash crisis. How do you justify the launch of a space agency in such a time?
AM: Cash crisis is a symptom of a non-productive economy, the priority is to look at institutional frameworks that make sure that this country is on a productive path.
Space and geospatial technologies are technologies that will enable us to enhance our agriculture, manage our health properly, our weather and climate prediction capabilities our mineral discovery, manage our water resources and therefore it`s of national strategic importance.
When you have these technologies and you are capable, it basically means your economy grows. If you look at countries that have very good economies you would find that these countries have geospatial and space capabilities which means those are the capabilities that you need first for productivity.
So, ZINGSA is not a luxury. How do you make cash available if your agriculture is not productive? How do you make cash available when your mining is not productive? How do you make cash available when you don`t have capabilities that make productivity possible? What we are attacking, we are attacking the basis upon which this nation will grow. We are not trying to patch symptoms we are trying to really focus on the fundamentals of national industrial growth, which is innovation.
LD: Does the country have enough monetary and human resources to sustain an idea of this magnitude?
AM: We will implement our programmes phase by phase. His Excellency President Mnangagwa always says that we will build this country, brick by brick but we have to start.
We will always have enough resources if our priorities are right and if we don’t want to chew more than we can chew. We will approach this in a phased approach.
There will also be private investment into this industry, we are creating a brand new industry which is very exciting.
We already have investors from South Africa who are willing to do satellite manufacturing in Zimbabwe thus creating jobs. The issue basically is that we are right at the right moment to start afresh, we should not be afraid of starting new things from scratch. Growth in a country is brought by doing things that we were not doing yesterday, you cannot imagine that you are growing when you are still doing the same thing.
You grow by doing new things, I believe we have enough resources to start, we have enough resources to go ahead but we will be pragmatic when we do. We are not saying we will be like NASA today, we are not saying we will have Zimbabwean astronauts today, we have a long term goal. Remember Zimbabwe is going to live forever and what we are going to do will impact on the future.
This country has to start thinking long terms and this is what we are going to do, step by step.
We have enough skills to make sure we will be able to fully implement the idea, we want to develop Zimbabwe in shockingly pleasant ways through doing things
LD: I understand there are three technologies of the 21st Century which your ministry will prioritise which are nanotechnology, biotechnology and geospatial technology. Why can’t these be compressed into a single parastatal to reduce possible duplicity?
AM: It would be difficult to organise that, it does not matter whether it is organised under one parastatal or under three parastatals. The most important thing is that Zimbabwe is undertaking this, each one will demand their resources so their combination or separation would not be of any effect.
LD: What will be the early priority areas for ZINGSA?
AM: We are going to set up the geospatial capabilities which are very easy to set up, the administration branch and board are also going to be set up very quickly. We already have got some financial allocations in excess of $3 million to start building.
We have seven priority activities which are; geospatial capabilities for mapping land for 99 year leases, geospatial capabilities for detecting and quantifying mineral resources, geospatial capabilities for matching fertiliser recommendations to soil types, geospatial capabilities for revising Zimbabwe`s agro-ecological regions, geospatial capabilities for wildlife monitoring, geospatial capabilities for disease surveillance and geospatial capabilities for quantifying energy resources.
LD: We have a seen a lot of projects getting discarded when a new minister comes in, what measures are you putting in place to ensure ZINGSA`s continuity?
AM: We do things for national development and we do them carefully. This is a research programme and each of them has a funding mechanism which is well articulated. Government has already released funds to make sure ZINGSA kicks off. We document our things at every step, so that if any other person comes they will just fit in and continue. One of the problems in this country is that people talk and they don’t document, then others don’t know where to start. What we are doing as the new dispensation is to document everything we do.
LD: Are there going to be efforts to educate people on what ZINGSA is all about?
AM: Yes, ZINGSA has an educational mandate so they will be engaging in efforts to increase public knowledge on what they do. Plus, we also have the space week which is coming in September and it is going to revolve around ZINGSA. But I have to make it clear that ZINGSA is aimed at solving Zimbabwean problems and things like sending a man to space is one of our least priorities. We are looking at creating industries that are related to our needs. We want to send observing instruments to space so that they help us with our communication and resource management. It is not for grandeur and glory, this is for serious national development.