Photo: Mohammed Hersi (Author and Chair of kTF) & Kojo Bentum-Williams, Publisher of VoyagesAfriq at ITB in 2018
Last year in November I travelled to neighboring Madagascar which is lately in the news for other reasons. I had breakfast in Mombasa and a late lunch in Tana as they fondly refer to Antananarivo, this big island that was physically part of the African continent way before the tectonic shift millions of years ago .
A month later in December Covid 19 happened and as say rest is history.
Covid19 crisis has simply turned world economy on its head let alone fickle and delicate tourism industry. Health and safety ( H&S) is paramount when it comes to travel and tourism. While terrorism was a known known and every country has a way to handle it but when it came to an invisible virus like Covid19 the world was simply caught flat foot.
While every country and every continent is busy exploring on how to bounce back so is our beautiful continent of Africa. The only continent shaped as human head in fact an old man full of wisdom. Truth be told, we need to search for that wisdom that has eluded us for the past six decades since many of us attained independence. Africa is a vibrant continent full of life and vigour. When we beat the drums the sound vibrates across ridges and valleys. Africa is famous for color and laughter.
As Africans we have always felt we should be doing more travel within our continent. The meeting in Antananarivo where I was a guest speaker courtesy of African union alluded to the same . We were discussing the same topic and in the process I took time to study our continent. I am now well placed to state a few facts and way forward to make this a reality in post Covid.
Firstly, what are the known knowns?
A. Africa is home to over 16.75% of the world’s people but accounts for between 2 – 4 % of the global air service .
B. Africa we have 731 airports and 419 airlines but over 95% of those airlines are all struggling.
C. Many Africans who want to visit another African country are forced to exit the continent and then reenter in order to get to their final destination. I am afraid tis is totally unacceptable in 2020.
As we aim to create a travelling culture between Africans we must overcome the following:
1. Visa Restriction.
We treat each other with a lot of disdain. While we have made some progress in the last ten years we still lag behind other continents. We simply make it next to impossible for an African to visit another African country. While EU came to East Africa to benchmark with EAC in the 70’s we have disintegrated since then. I must also salute Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda for single visa and even single passport. I hope and pray that one day Africa can have one single passport or even single currency.
Why would a country like Congo Brazzaville make so tedious for anyone to visit? From a lengthy visa process and a $205 Visa fees and if you include handling charges we are looking at $250. I think it is one of the highest visa fees for a single entry. With such hurdles there is no way on earth that any country will succeed in attracting trade let alone tourism. On the other getting a South African Visa is like trying to access the white house, not all Africans are economic immigrants. If South Africa is to befit from African travelers then they must ease their Visa conditions.
Africa Union has made efforts to educate and convince African states that it is in our best interest that we ease visa restrictions. In 2009 only 21% of Africans could get visa on arrival in a fellow African country sadly ten years later it stood at 25% but we must commend West Africa who allowed 37% in 2009 and jumped to 42% in 2019. On the other East Africa in 2009 was 16% and in 2019 it stood at mere 18%.
We must salute the likes of Rwanda and Seychelles two Small African countries who have flung their doors wide open that you can get your visa on arrival. It is reported that since Rwanda took that decision they have seen 20% growth on arrivals and Kigali is now a more preferred MICE capital beating old players like Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Marrakech. It takes visionary leadership for that to happen.
2. Air Accessibility
Africa has poor road connection but we must also give African Union some credit for trying to make the Cape To Cairo road a reality. For a long time the Kenya connection to Ethiopia was in poor state which has since been fixed to international specs. Last year some Kenya cyclist did a cycling fund raiser by cycling from Nairobi to Macca Islam holiest site.
In the absence of a good road network we are then left with the only option which is flying. While Africa has more than 400 airlines sadly we have nothing to show for it safe for successful Ethiopian Airlines and struggling Kenya Airways and South Africa Airways which is negotiating for a new life from the South African government.
It is my considered opinion that African countries that have failed to run an airline for the past six decades to now stop trying and invite successful airlines to manage the same for them and right here in Africa we have Ethiopian Airlines who will happily do that in the spirit of African renaissance.
3. Open Skies Policy
Even if we had working airlines we are still lagging bind with open skies policy. Most Africa states endorsed the Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD) in Lomé, Togo on 12 July 2000. The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) of the YD was introduced to expedite the full implementation of the YD in order to move the continent forward towards the concrete implementation of the AU Agenda 2063.
We have a sign off by 27 countries and we still have key nations like Uganda and Tanzania who are yet to ratify the same. They ought to know it is in their best interest that they do so.
SAATM and the fifth freedom right will solve most of our challenges by allowing successful African airlines unfettered access to other African countries. The countries that are reluctant to embrace SAATM fear losing out but how do you lose something you have never had in the first place.
4. Efficient Working Airports.
Again if it is just numbers we have over 700 airports across Africa but how many of these airports will get approval by ICAO on safety and security ?
Again just like airline if you cannot run a proper airport or you don’t have the manpower then reach out . Rwanda has just signed a deal with Qatar which I consider to be visionary and smart. Ivory Coast did the same by privatizing the main airport and efficiency levels have gone up and it is a known fact African countries have serious governance issues hence privatization makes sense. Even you privatize a government will still run the security aspect to ensure that security of a country is not compromised.
We must stop looking down on ourselves. We must start treating fellow African with respect and dignity. Many times in my travel I have seen how the rest of Africa treat our west African bothers when they transit through our airports. While we were busy doing that many of them opted to switch to the Middle Eastern carriers where they are treated with dignity.
African countries we love taxing anything and everything way before even business has been transacted. You cannot tax yourself to prosperity. Africa has one of the highest tax regimes impacting negatively on travel from tax on air tickets to aviation fuel and high cost in landing fees. We must stop looking at the tax element as an end to itself because if they are no takers there will be nothing to tax .We must learn from Dubai who happily tax once you get there through shopping , hotels , restaurants etc.
Finally Africa we have been soared the true impact of Covid19 and I hope and pray it stays calm . As we reopen travel we must exercise caution and ensure Covid19 protocols are clearly defined so that we comply with international guidelines as per WHO.
Kenya Tourism Federation.