African lawfare to take control of space

Modern academia: Marching with Lenin!
Modern African academia, proudly marching with Lenin!

It appears that a growing cadre of African lawyers are working within international organizations such as the UN and the International Astronautical Union (IAU) to use the Outer Space Treaty as a wedge to take control of space, wresting it from the hands of private commerical companies.

I make this assessment based upon a long article about this new lawfare published today in Wired, describing the training and political goals of a number of young African layers in the field of international space law.

[S]ome players in the global south are gearing up for the orbital future not just by scrambling to launch satellites, but by building up skills in outer space law—the evolving area of international jurisprudence that introduced the “province of all mankind” concept in the first place.

Though the Outer Space Treaty is still the cornerstone of space law, other international agreements have built up around it over the years—and more still are desperately needed to regulate today’s realities in space. “This is an area of rulemaking where they’re just setting up the rules for the future, so you need to have a perspective now,” explains Timiebi Aganaba, a British-Canadian-Nigerian professor at Arizona State University who has been instrumental in driving African interest in space law. “If the system gets built without you—if you come in later—people will start quoting laws to you.”

In 2011, Aganaba helped organize the first teams of African law students to enter something called the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition. The global tournament, named after an architect of the Outer Space Treaty, uses fictional court cases to train young lawyers how to think through the plausible conflicts that could soon arise beyond the atmosphere—and it is far and away the most important professional conduit into the field of space law. Students who make it to the final round of the competition argue their cases before actual judges from the International Court of Justice—the world’s highest forum for legal disputes between countries. And since 2011, teams from Africa have become a force in the competition. In 2018, South Africa’s University of Pretoria won the international championship.

If Aganaba’s name rings a bell to my readers, it is no surprise. » Read more