Africa’s 54 states are home to some 1.38-billion people. It should be simple for people to move freely across the continent. Yet, mobility still remains Africa’s biggest challenge to date.
Speaking on improving mobility and addressing barriers to travel at Africa’s Travel and Tourism Summit on 20th September, Deputy Minister, Fish Mahlalela said current transport infrastructure needs to be improved for it to play a role in building a sustainable tourism industry.” Mobility is both a means and a product. Without transportation, there will not be a travel and tourism industry. We will need to improve infrastructure across the continent to make travel efficient and reliable.”
Ever since the African Union was established in 1963, the idea of free movement of people and goods has always been on the agenda, said Mahlalela. But transport infrastructure was an impediment and continues to be so. Mahlalela had experienced first-hand the challenges to mobility in Africa. To get to Cameroon, he had to travel via Paris, France. “That is the challenge of connectivity and air space.”
Colonial era routes still heavily relied on
The Democratic Republic of Congo’s Ambassador to South Africa Bene M’Poko said Africa’s mobility challenges come from Africa’s reliance on trade routes established during the colonial era. “Before we became independent, travel infrastructure was built for us to be taken to those colonial countries, and the trade took place between Africa and other parts of the world, not amongst Africans within Africa. And that infrastructure is still there.”
M’Poko said that intra-African trade should be the driving force behind travel, yet the current infrastructure does not facilitate it. “When we talk of African Continental Free Trade Agreement, we talk about trading. We need to buy from each other but we are not producing enough to sell to each other.”
SAA reboots with connections to Africa
South African Airways is resuming flights on 23rd September, which is a monumental moment since exiting business rescue in April. Initial flights will operate from Johannesburg to Cape Town, Accra, Kinshasa, Harare, Lusaka, and Maputo. The airline’s Chief Commercial Officer, Simon Newton-Smith, said that airlines are meant to connect people and destinations across the continent. “Why we chose those destinations is because our passengers can get into those markets easily.”
He said that while Africa has 14 percent of the world’s population, it only has two percent of global airlift. That is because direct flights between major African cities – which have limited infrastructure – are still problematic to establish. “The vision is around partnerships to make it easier for passengers to feel like one seamless journey.”
Inward-looking policies sustain tourism
Geoffrey Manyara, the East African regional Economic Affairs Officer at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said that COVID-19 has forced many nations to develop inward-looking policies to sustain their tourism industries. He spoke of landlocked Rwanda, whose government has been ensuring travel from neighbouring countries remains strong. “Intra-African collaboration is needed, at least with neighbouring countries. When a government is involved it helps the industry.”
Manyara said Rwanda has tapped into its love of sports, particularly basketball, to build a post-COVID tourism industry.