Eno Umoh

The “drone revolution” is happening worldwide, and Africa is no exception. With the applications and advances that UAVs provide are expanding rapidly – from surveying to security to agriculture and urban planning – African drones are set to take off in a big way in the coming years.

The Elevate Africa UAS Summit, June 28-29, 2024, will gather the many different countries, users and stakeholders that have a stake in this burgeoning industry. The summit promises to be a transformative event, charting the future of Unmanned Aerial Systems in Africa. Located in the city of Nairobi, industry leaders and enthusiasts will convene to explore the latest advancements and discuss the trajectory of drone technology in the continent’s skies. Commercial UAV News recently spoke with Eno Umoh, Chairman of the African Drone Forum, for his perspective on the event and the UAV industry. 

What are the biggest growth opportunities you’re seeing in the commercial drone space in Africa?

Interest and adoption of drones in Africa are very high across multiple industries. However, there is a significant barrier to entry, with licensing costs averaging around ten times higher than in the US. Despite this, drones are being adopted to address local problems with tailored solutions, as needs vary greatly from country to country.

There are abundant use cases in energy, agriculture, training/education and security. For example, drones are used for detailed inspections of pipelines and critical infrastructure, providing real-time data and reducing risks to human inspectors. Precision farming benefits immensely from drones, which help monitor crop health, spray crops, manage pests, and optimize irrigation. Drones are being used to enhance surveillance capabilities, offering real-time monitoring and quick response solutions for security threats. In disaster scenarios, including increasing cases of flooding, drones provide critical information rapidly, aiding in search and rescue operations and assessing damage effectively. 

Drones are also being integrated into training programs from youth to adults, pilots, and technicians, building a skilled workforce ready to leverage this technology. With over 60% of Africa's population under the age of 25, the youthful demographic presents a significant opportunity to develop a technologically-ready workforce.

What is the current regulatory landscape like in Africa? What are the biggest challenges and how is the Elevate Africa Summit bringing together stakeholders with policy makers?

The regulatory landscape in Africa is diverse and evolving. Currently, just over half of the 54 nations have fully implemented drone regulations. There has been discussion about harmonizing a set of African-focused standards similar to the JARUS/SORA efforts, but nothing concrete has emerged yet. There has been previous collaboration in East Africa among Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda.

Most countries require attendance at an approved training academy and passing both theory and practical tests before obtaining a license. They distinguish between licensing companies, typically known as an ROC (Remote Operator Certificate), and an RPL (Remote Pilot License). An ROC is required to operate as a company. Training academies are referred to as ATOs (Approved Training Organizations) or UTOs (Unmanned Training Organizations).

Some countries recognize and accept US or UK licenses, integrating them locally. However, there is a significant gap in the availability of training and licensing. For instance, Kenya has over 15 approved organizations, whereas Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent, has none.

The main challenges include:

  • Harmonization of Regulations: Ensuring consistent and harmonized regulations across borders to facilitate cross-country drone operations.
  • Safety and Compliance: Balancing the need for innovation with stringent safety and compliance standards.
  • Public Perception: Addressing public concerns around privacy and safety.
  • Distinguishing Beneficial Drone Use from Security Concerns: Overcoming the perception that drones are primarily a security threat. 

The Elevate Africa Summit is set to be pivotal in addressing these challenges. By bringing together regulators, industry leaders, and policymakers, the summit fosters dialogue and collaboration. Sessions on regulatory frameworks, safety standards, and best practices will help align efforts and promote a conducive environment for drone operations across Africa.

What types of unique UAS applications and case studies will be explored at the Elevate Africa Summit? 

The Summit will highlight a variety of unique UAS applications and case studies, including:

  • Precision Farming: Demonstrations on how drones can optimize agricultural processes, enhancing crop monitoring, pest control, and irrigation.
  • Wildlife Protection: Case studies on using drones for anti-poaching efforts and wildlife monitoring, showcasing their role in conservation.
  • Healthcare Delivery: Insights into successful drone delivery systems for medical supplies, including Zipline's milestone of completing its 1,000,000th delivery, a significant portion of which was achieved in Africa.
  • Disaster Response: Applications of drones in disaster management and relief operations, demonstrating their effectiveness in providing rapid, critical information and aiding in search and rescue missions. 

These sessions will offer practical insights and truly highlight how drones are transforming critical sectors across Africa. It's an exciting opportunity to see firsthand how innovative drone technology is making a real difference.

What can attendees expect at KONZA Technopolis?

KONZA Technopolis is a sustainable technology hub and a major economic driver for Kenya, strategically positioned to become a global destination for innovation, research, and technology development. It aims to propel Kenya into a mid-income economy by 2030 as part of the country's Vision 2030 development plan​.

Attendees at KONZA Technopolis can look forward to a dynamic and interactive experience, including:

  • UAS Corridor Opening: Witness the inauguration of KONZA’s state-of-the-art UAS corridor, designed for advanced drone operations.
  • Flight Demonstrations: Observe live demonstrations of various UAS technologies in action.
  • Interactive Workshops: Participate in hands-on workshops focusing on UAS operations, safety, and applications.
  • Networking Opportunities: Engage with industry leaders, regulators, and innovators to explore collaboration and business opportunities. 

The UAS Corridor at KONZA is a significant milestone, offering a dedicated space for testing and demonstrating cutting-edge drone technologies.

What other types of events can be expected leading to the return of the African Drone Forum in 2025?

Leading up to the African Drone Forum in 2025, several key events are planned to keep the community engaged and informed:

  • ADF Connect: We recently launched our online membership platform, ADF Connect, where members can access the latest industry news and discussions, network and connect with peers, and participate in a monthly webinar.
  • Regional Workshops: These workshops will focus on addressing local challenges and opportunities in drone technology.
  • Educational Webinars: Regular sessions aimed at enhancing knowledge and skills in drone operations.
  • Strategic Partnerships: Collaborations with other events and organizations to broaden the impact and reach of our initiatives.

What are you personally the most excited about at the Elevate Africa Summit?

I am most excited about the collaborative spirit that the Elevate Africa Summit embodies. For me, this event is deeply personal. In 2020, I had the privilege of participating in ADF in Rwanda, which brought together the best and brightest minds on the continent. It was a life-changing experience that provided a platform to showcase my work and pitch my vision of establishing a drone academy in Nigeria. Winning the African Drone Business Competition enabled me to move to Nigeria full-time and turn that vision into reality.

The Elevate Africa Summit is the first major event of this scale since then, and it means the world to be able to foster development on the continent. Special thanks to our planning partners—Kenya Flying Labs, Pravesh Global, KONZA, and the KCAA—for their tireless efforts in making this a success.

I am particularly thrilled about the opening of the UAS Corridor at KONZA Technopolis. This represents a major leap forward for Africa’s drone ecosystem, providing a dedicated space for testing and showcasing new technologies. The opportunity to connect with diverse stakeholders from across Africa and beyond, share knowledge, forge partnerships, and drive innovation is unparalleled.

The Elevate Africa Summit really is our commitment to advancing the drone industry, creating opportunities for others as they were created for me, and bringing the 'African drone story' to the global stage.

Registration is open!

Elevate Africa Summit

June 28-29, 2024

Argyle Grand Hotel, Nairobi, and KONZA Technopolis, Kenya

Early Bird Registration Deadline: June 7, 2024 (with a 25% discount)

Register Now