The recent announcement that the African Union, AU on 28 January, 2018 finally launched the Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM) with 23 out of the 54 countries on the Continent accepting to join at the initial stage seems as a dream come-true to many. In spite of the many advantages that the SAATM could bring to Africa, the Yamoussoukro Decision of 1999 introducing the Single Africa Airspace was almost being seen by many as another moribund resolution by African leaders. Even when some countries like Rwanda in 2017 indicated their willingness to relax visa conditions, it was as if they were playing to the gallery. Taking concrete moves towards the SAATM will be another icing on such a cake as it will serve to facilitate travels across Africa. Promises of better economic prospects, an improvement in tourism, intra-African trade and so on, should make for greater job openings and a favourable business climate thanks to the ongoing initiatives.
Accepting to finally open the Continent’s skies three decades after the decision was taken gives room for most observers to simply say better late than never. Yet, the real test of the pudding will be in the eating. Most African countries still remain too egocentric by holding strong to their national sovereignties thereby undermining the desire to promote common interest and favour inclusive African growth. Even with the inability of some countries to run an airline company, the trend has been towards countries looking inward rather than accepting to partner with others. With chances now that enhanced connectivity by air in Africa and a reduction in air ticket cost could add to the elimination of stopovers in Europe during inter-Africa trips; delays and expensive air travel on the Continent could henceforth become things of the past. Moreover, in 2014, a study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) revealed that liberalisation routes in 12 key African countries will boost their economies by creating over 150,000 additional jobs.
By adopting the current step, the African Union hopes to encourage cross-border investment and innovation, improve business operations and increase competitiveness while helping airlines on the Continent to grow. Air travel privileges already existing in Europe and Latin America and such instances can surely serve as models from which the AU wants to function. Consequently, the challenge will be to avoid certain cheap trappings of poor management and organisational delays that are common to air transport in Africa.
Concerning the issue of profit margin, carriers like Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airline, Nigeria’s Arik Air, and so on, have managed to survive. This is an indication that they are making gains all the same. In addition, other airlines from Western countries have been omnipresent in Africa which means the market is available. The current challenge in launching the SAATM will be to make the most benefit out of the African airspace which might not mean escaping competition, but enabling African to take advantage of what they have before hoping to do so elsewhere. Painful tales of delayed or cancelled flights and other setbacks that travelling across Africa has been subjected to need to be the main concern of the SAATM initiative as well. This will be a way of giving visibility to one of the flagship projects of Agenda 2063 set by the Continent to overcome most of her hurdles.