MPs now threaten to end 'one-sided' space centre deal with Italy

The President of Italy Sergio Mattarella arrives at Malindi International Airport on March 15, 2023. [Nehemiah Okwembah, Standard].

Parliament wants the government to pull out of the "one-sided" agreement with Italy that led to the establishment of a space centre in Malindi, Kilifi County.

MPs said Luigi Broglio Space Centre only benefiting Italy as opposed to the initial arrangement where both countries would reap benefits.

The National Assembly Defense, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday put to task Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale over the agreement that has been in force for 60 years.

Duale said the two countries had in 2020 agreed to the use of the Space Centre for scientific, technological and socioeconomic development.

The Kenya Space Agency (KSA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) were to jointly manage the centre that sits on 3.5 hectares of the Kenya Defence Forces land.

Under the deal, Kenya was to access Earth Observation and Space Science Data, while KSA was to get support. Italy was to offer education and training, telemedicine and the establish a centre for earth observation.

However, the committee heard that three years after the agreement's ratification by Parliament, there was slow implementation and the centre has been conducting activities exclusively benefiting Italy and its Western partner agencies.

“The committee will give the ministry and the Executive support on this endeavour to terminate the agreement because, from the submissions that have been made, it is clear Kenya has not been benefiting from the agreement despite the facility being on Kenyan soil,” said the committee chairman, Nelson Koech (Belgut).

Duale revealed that Italian officials had made requests to Deputy President Riagthi Gachagua and Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi to continue operating during their recent visit to Rome.

“Luckily, I briefed the DP before he left and he did not meet them. Linturi was also briefed by our ambassador and did not meet with them,” said Duale.

Gilgil MP Martha Wangari sought to know why Kenya had not effected the exit clause given that it is now five months since the Ministry of Defence last wrote to their Italian counterparts to honour their part of the agreement.

“It feels like we are in an abusive relationship with Italy because they seem to be getting all the benefits while we suffer. If we are not getting any commercial or educational benefits from the facility then we need a way to disentangle ourselves from the agreement,” said Wangari.

Kajiado Central MP Kanchory Memusi demanded to know what the country had gained from the facility over the last 60 years and why Kenya appears slow in terminating the deal that has proved non-beneficial to Kenyans.

“This is our territory yet people are telling us what today. We should kick them out and then negotiate from a position of advantage,” he said.

Saboti MP Clement Sloya said Parliament would help fast-track the termination process and implored Duale to get into other agreements that were beneficial to the country.

The CS, in his response, noted that Kenya was already talking to countries such as India and the USA with a view of collaborating on space matters.

“We have our own space agency that can fill the vacuum should the Italians exit…all we want is that they honour their part of the agreement by operating truthfully and submitting dues owed to Kenya,” he said.