The Space Court Foundation created the Interview Series, a new initiative hosted by Nivedita Raju to amplify voices of minority communities, starting with Women of Colour.

For this episode, Ruvimbo Samanga, a Space Law and Policy Analyst will describe her experience in the African space sector.

INTERVIEW SERIES #1 | Women of Colour
Ruvimbo Samanga

Nivedita Raju:

Hello everyone and welcome to the first episode of Space Court Foundation’s Interview Series for Women of Color in space.
I am Nivedita Raju, Director of Legal Affairs and Research at Space Court. At the Foundation we firmly believe in the benefit of outer space for all of humankind, which is why we are thrilled to be launching an Interview Series to amplify voices of minority communities in the sector, starting with Women of Color. Each episode will feature a different speaker and highlight their experiences in the sector. Our inaugural episode features Ruvimbo Samanga. Ruvimbo is a space policy analyst from Zimbabwe, specializing in the traditional and new space African sector. Welcome Ruvimbo!
To start with Ru, could you please tell us more about your background and your primary projects?

Ruvimbo Samanga:

Indeed, so a little bit about my background. I have a background in Law. I studied two undergraduate degrees in Law and then, I went on to a Master’s degree in International Trade and Investment law. All three of my degrees were obtained from the University of Pretoria. It was during my penultimate year of my second undergraduate degree that I discovered I had a passion for space law and policy. I was near the end of my second degree and I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do and specialize in. But I have always been a risk taker, someone who enjoys figuring things out. So a lot of soul-searching was happening at that time and I happened to stumble upon the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competition which we took part in in 2017. I was a speaker that year. I ended up coming away as the best African speaker and of course, we advanced to the World Finals where we represented Africa. Unfortunately, we didn’t do so well but I knew I loved space more then, because despite all of the long hours, I was still motivated to continue pursuing it. So the next year, I coached the University’s team and once again, we advanced to the World Finals and this time, we ended up becoming the first African team, in the entirety of the 26-year history of the competition to win. And it was such a turning point it opened us up to so many opportunities in the industry! And of course I had always had an innate interest in outer space so having that career prospect almost seemed natural. From there, I have just been immersed in getting to know as much as I can on how I can really contribute to the field of space law and policy since then. 

Nivedita Raju:

Fantastic! I am so happy to hear that as well! Manfred Lachs is an incredible learning experience, especially in terms of international law. Many of us at Space Court have also been involved in the different stages of the competition. I was wondering, could you share a bit more about AgriSpace, the technology and its potential impacts on farming practices? 

Ruvimbo Samanga:

AgriSpace is a geospatial solutions provider operating here in Zimbabwe, using geospatial data and geospatial technology. We hope to support food security by giving farmers all of the necessary data and information that they need to optimize their farming production. Currently as it stands, the statistics in Zimbabwe are not looking very good on the food security front. At least half of the population is food insecure. That would be about 8 million people and this is all as a result of climate change and intense drought, as well as irregular rainfall. and of course the persisting and fluctuating economy. So we are hoping to bring tech innovation to farming, understanding that Zimbabwe is an agri-based nation, and supporting of the over 9 600 small-scale farmers who are eking out a living in the difficult conditions. We hope that by using satellite imagery, farmers will know what to plant, where to plant, how to plant, and when to plant most importantly. All of this is really to give the farmers greater security, not only in the harvest and the yield, but they can also use this information to access vital credit insurance and financing from financial institutions.So it is a very comprehensive policy innovation that looks not only at the farming production but everything, from the supply chain to logistics, even to knowledge sharing because again it will develop a community of users who will share sustainable farming practices. In order to not only integrate TICs, but integrate a communal-based approach to farming.

Nivedita Raju:

My goodness, that is amazing! I think it is truly a testament to the power of space technology. On that note, I wanted to ask: Space Court Foundation focuses on increasing accessibility to space law and education. Was there anything about your own educational experience that was particularly challenging?

Ruvimbo Samanga:

Indeed, we encountered a number of challenges, I think even starting from when we took part in the competition. As always, I think the biggest challenge is accessing information. Even though our library had sufficient resources, it was nothing near our developed country counterparts. And as well, some of the resources you often find are paid for and are quite expensive, especially by student means.So definitely, the first bottleneck was: how can we get the information we need to formulate a competent and well-informed stunt on whatever legal issue we were dealing with? And I think second to that was also just the political will, I guess, in support of the regions we come from. Coming from Africa, of course, we have a burgeoning space industry but a lot still has to be done to not only transfer that awareness to the ordinary citizen, but also to receive the requisite governmental support that we need to fulfil some of these endeavors that we are working on. And you’ll find that a lack of political will also translates into a lack of enabling policy environment.So again, the journey was mired by overcoming a lot of hurdles that simply just weren’t accounted for in the legal space and having to seemingly develop the law as you were going and creating that precedent. So I believe that all those students, at some point, will encounter the challenge of looking for case law, any kind of jurisprudence relating to whatever subject theme they’re working on. But I think owing to just how niche space law, is that task becomes just a little more tricky, especially from a developing country context.

Nivedita Raju:

That really resonates with me, thank you for saying that. You know, universities in India face similar constraints as well, so i think you you’ve hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that this is the struggle that we that we face. This is definitely one of the Foundation’s goals as well. On the subject of students, given the lack of representation in our field, what are the tools that future students from our communities need if they’re looking to get involved?

Ruvimbo Samanga:

I always hammer time and time again that everyone needs a mentor, everyone needs a role model that they can look up to. And I believe it’s important, especially for minority communities, because it really does a great deal to eliminate that feeling of isolation. And I personally have profited so much from having a mentor! Her name is Professor Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty. She is a successful black woman in aerospace and I look up to her so much, not only for just the authority that she has in the industry! Her desire to contribute to Africa, to contribute to the youth, and to contribute to developing country issues is so remarkable and she really embodies a lot of the kind of practitioner I would hope to be someday. The benefits of having a mentor: not only does it streamline your approach to your career journey, but it also allows you to really engage in activities that you might not previously have had opportunity to  engage in. You get to be in spaces that are way beyond your career years. I think that is the beauty of it, because a mentor guides you through things that you know they’ve been through before, and it just makes it a whole lot easier for you. But I think most importantly, it is a safe space.It is a space for you to feel welcomed and it is a space that will continuously encourage you that indeed, it is possible.

Nivedita Raju:

That is great advice! I do wonder though: did you consciously think of these tools while you were job hunting, when you started out as a fresh graduate? We have all been in that boat so I am curious to know. 

Ruvimbo Samanga:

Oh not at all! I think as any person, whenever you start off, you want to try and do everything by yourself. But I think it naturally came about, because as you go on your career journey, you inevitably encounter people who model the kind of practitioner you would want to be. And I just slowly but surely found myself so aligned with her vision and what she stood for that it only made perfect sense for me to continue to just keep tabs on her and she kept very good tabs on me. And I am immensely grateful for how much it has opened up to me, but I would definitely encourage everyone to be a lot more intentional about it. It saves you a lot of time. It saves you a lot of heartache as well, and I think it is just a great experience. It is great for your network, it is great for your self-esteem, and you don’t have to second-guess yourself as much.

Nivedita Raju:

Moving to something particularly exciting, you have been working on a comic book for space traditions in Africa. Could you possibly share more about the book and its release?

Ruvimbo Samanga:

Indeed I can! And without giving any spoilers, I will briefly discuss the content a little bit with you all. So I have been working in collaboration with the [SGAC] NPoC of Angola, Marco Romero, to develop a comic book called Ruvi Humbi, which as you can guess from the title includes myself as the protagonist, as a girl, who is very enthusiastic and intrepid about space. And she basically uses space to save the day! And it is a wonderful coming together of Zimbabwean tradition of space science and technology. We hope that through this creative engagement, we can really reach out to young people and inspire them to learn more about space. With regards to the official launch date, we hope that will be in the next few months. We are currently wrapping up on the storyboard and the graphics, and we hope that we can have a finished product for you all soon, but we have the artwork going on and we also have the promotional material circulating in some spaces. We are really looking forward to see what impact this has for space education for the youth, recognizing that a nation space autonomy is really hinged on the critical mass of skilled personnel and we need to start training them young for sure. 

Nivedita Raju:That is so exciting! I have been privileged enough to get a sneak peek at the artwork and it is breathtaking so I can’t wait! Final question for you! Do you have any thoughts on the role that space court and other non-profits in our sector? What role can they play in increasing diversity and inclusion?

Ruvimbo Samanga:

I think this initiative is already a great stride in improving diversity and inclusion. I say so because, when you look at the space terrain as it currently stands, it is so dominated by multinational stakeholders, by developed powers! You rarely ever have occasion to listen to the minority voices which, having a look at the Outer Space Treaty, are actually those that require the most empowerment as developing nations, as countries that have equal interest in the beneficiation of outer space. So I believe that what the Space Court is doing, especially with women of color and all of the other minority voices that will be included in this segment, is to lend voice to a demographic of people who haven’t previously had occasion to do so. And by doing that, we are making space equitable, we are making it inclusive, we are making it a truly multi-stakeholder initiative, which, I think, was the initial vision of the Outer Space Treaty. And we are teaching everyone that space, at the end of the day, is meant to benefit all humankind. And how can we know if it is benefiting all humankind if there is no active feedback? So this platform is really doing an immensely great thing, and I believe that the more that we include different perspectives as well, the more we can also ensure sustainability in outer space thank.

Nivedita Raju:

Thank you Ru! You hve raised such insightful points and thank you for sharing your experience with us and for inspiring our audience today! Space Court Foundation will announce details for Episode 2 soon. In the meantime, please subscribe to our channel, like this video and follow our page for updates!