Stop protecting own carriers, open Africa's skies – Balala

He has renewed calls for implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision.

In Summary

•The 1999 declaration is aimed at opening the continent's skies and addressing shortcomings in the continent's aviation industry.

•Many African countries have restricted their air services markets to protect the share held by state-owned air carriers.

Tourism and Wildlife CS Najib Balala/
Tourism and Wildlife CS Najib Balala/
Image: FILE

African countries need to embrace and implement the open skies policy to boost the continent's aviation industry, Kenya's Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has said.

They should stop protecting national carriers if the continent is to realise growth in the aviation industry and compete with carriers from other parts of the world, he said.

These are mainly the Gulf and European carriers which have a sizable market share of the continent's traffic.

He has renewed calls for implementation of the 1999 Pan-African treaty on liberalization of access to air transport markets, the Yamoussoukro Decision, which was coiled towards addressing shortcomings in the continent's aviation industry.

Protecting individual country's airlines is not a solution. We need to walk the talk in the continent of Africa; to open the airspace
Tourism and Wildlife CS Najib Balala

This, as most national carriers, including Kenya Airways , continue to struggle with losses.

A number the continent's national carriers have since wounded up over huge losses and debt.

“Protecting individual country's airlines is not a solution. We need to walk the talk in the continent of Africa; to open the airspace,” Balala said.

He spoke during a virtual tourism forum dubbed 'Invest, Rebuild and Restart the African Tourism Sector'.

Opening the skies will in turn help growth of tourism by making travel within the continent much easier, he said.

Africa is home to 12 per cent of the world’s population, but it accounts for less than one per cent of the global air service market.

Of the 1.47 billion annual tourists traffic (pre-Covid), Africa is said to account for three per cent of outbound tourists and five per cent of inbound tourists, the lowest share.

Part of the reason for Africa’s under-served status, according to a World Bank study, Open Skies for Africa – Implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision, is that many African countries restrict their air services markets to protect the share held by state-owned air carriers.

This practice originated in the early 1960s when many newly-independent African states created national airlines, in part, to assert their status as nations.

However, most have recognised that the strict regulatory protection that sustains such carriers, has detrimental effects of air safety records, while also inflating air fares and dampening air traffic growth.

In 1999, African ministers responsible for civil aviation adopted the Yamoussoukro Decision, named for the Ivorian city in which it was agreed.

It commits its 44 signatory countries to deregulate air services, and promote regional air markets open to transnational competition.

It followed up on the Yamoussoukro Declaration of 1988, in which many of the same countries agreed to principles of air services liberalization.

In 2000, the Decision was endorsed by head of states and governments at the Organization of African Unity, and became fully binding in 2002.

But implementation has fallen short, according to Charles Schlumberger, Lead Air Transport Specialist at the World Bank, and author of Open Skies for Africa, with signatories failing to fully embrace the declaration. 

“A historic opportunity is being missed,” Schlumberger notes.

In the domestic aviation sector, Balala has noted high tax rates which are making flying expensive.

“Taxation becomes a hindrance. It increases the cost of airlines' seats and that is a problem,” he said.

Meanwhile, Balala has called for infrastructural investment across the continent where only 27 per cent of the about 477 airports, with scheduled flight connections, are certified.

This is about 128 airports.

“What happened to the rest? These are the questions we need to ask our selves and walk the talk,” Balala posed.

Other investments he is rooting for are roads and rail, while easing the cost of doing business being key for growth.

He has also urged for domestication of Africa's and regional tourism saying the 1.4 billion population in the continent can hugely contribute to the growth of the sector.

“We don't have the spending power like Europe and other markets but we will develop a culture of traveling. People will spend and slowly as our middle class is improving, we will be able to have people traveling within the continent rather than going very far which at the moment they cant afford,” Balala said.

Kenya has implemented a visa on arrival module, a positive step towards easing travel for international populations visiting Kenya.

“The next thing is connectivity,” said Balala.