By Aminat Bakare
“Africa wants to fly”, this was the theme of this year’s Yamossoukro Decision (YD) Day celebration. The grand event brought together honourable ministers or representatives of over 12 African countries, aviation stakeholders, leaders, partners and delegates across Africa.
The YD Day anniversary as designated by the 29th Assembly of African Union to be celebrated at national, regional and continental levels on November 14th of every year was celebrated on the same date this year in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, Abuja during a 4-day event put together by the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) who is the executing agency of the Yamoussoukro Decision from 13-16 November, 2023.
Down The Memory Lane
According to AFCAC, “the main objective of the African Union (AU) leaders on air transport was to improve the continent’s connectivity and integration through the liberalization of air transport services in Africa, and the removal of restrictions on traffic rights, capacity, frequency and tariffs between African city-pairs for all African airlines.”
Despite the slow implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision and the few successes achieved by member States over the past years, the launch of the SAATM as the first flagship project of the AU’s Agenda 2063 on January 28, 2018 became a turning point for the full liberalization of African air transport.
In the same vein, AFCAC also came up with the SAATM Pilot Implementation Project (SAATM-PIP) initiative launched on the 14th of November 2022 with “the aim to accelerate the implementation of the YD leading to the full and sustainable implementation of SAATM.”
So far, “37 Member States which account for more than 88% of intra-African traffic and more than 800 million people in Africa have subscribed to the Solemn Commitment to unconditionally implement the YD and SAATM while 26 States have signed the Memorandum of Implementation (MoI) for its operationalization and implementation and 20 states have joined the SAATM-PIP.”
The YD anniversary called on the rest of African states to embrace the urgent implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) and also address the progress the initiative has made so far. According to Capt. Musa Nuhu, the Director General, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), “SAATM is a catalyst for the successful implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA)” while assuring that “Nigeria is in full support of the ongoing air transport liberalisation in Africa.” Ms. Adefunke Adeyemi, Secretary General of AFCAC stated that “African aviation is in an emergency. We cannot become the tree of life that we have in the African Union anthem if flight connectivity is not improved upon within the continent.”
In the words of the Honourable Minister of Aviation & Aerospace Development of Nigeria, Barrister Festus Keyamo (SAN) “Nigeria has made a commitment to the full implementation of SAATM through our commitment to SAATM-Project Implementation Pilot (SAATM-PIP). I have also directed that our Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) with African Countries that are signatory to SAATM be reviewed in line with the provisions of Yamoussoukro Decision and the principles of reciprocity.” He further called on delegates to “embrace the theme, “Africa Wants to Fly,” not merely as words, but as a call to action, a call to reach for the stars, and a call to make our dream for the full realization of SAATM come to realisation.”
Ms. Adeyemi called on governments and all stakeholders present at the YD Week anniversary to contribute to the implementation of the SAATM and its socio-economic benefits to states, African airlines, investors and air travelers “in order to achieve the 30% increased 5th Freedom connectivity in Africa by 2025 that AFCAC is focused on achieving.”
Nothing Is Holding Africa Back
The implementation of SAATM and the opening of routes will not only enhance connectivity by removing restrictions on Air travel within Africa but also lower fares, increase frequency, improved routes and smoother journeys. So “what exactly are we afraid of? What can go wrong if we open the skies?” questioned Capt. Edward Boyo, SAATM Ambassador for West Africa. “What SAATM means is to request our leaders to make roads that will join our communities. These roads could be in the air. If we have SAATM, the protocol of free movement of people will work and with the protocol free movement, the African passport initiative will come alive” continued Capt. Boyo.
For the full acceleration of the liberalisation of SAATM, AFCAC implemented 5 major key points namely; launching the SAATM-PIP, appointment of ambassadors, alignment of BASAs with YD, cluster of states SAATM-PIP implementation road map and JPAP.
Bring in Foreign Affairs and Trade Minsters
Speaker after speaker and government after government spoke of their commitment in principle to the achievement of the SAATM, yet only 37 states are on board hence the suggestion by the honourable ministers of Nigeria and Ghana for the AFCAC Secretariat to consider including other ministries in their outreach namely foreign affairs and trade. According to the Nigerian Minister “SAATM is more of a foreign affairs issue than aviation” noting that “It is 30% aviation and 70% foreign affairs issue”
Harmonisation Of Regulations Should Happen Sooner Than Later
The necessity to harmonize air transport regulations was loud and very clear. According to Capt. Nuhu it is evident that Africa will not make appreciable and sufficient progress in the air transport industry while there are 55 distinct and different national regulations. The meeting heard that this hampers the ability of the continent to optimize manpower and brings a level of unpredictability doing business in the African air transport industry. For instance, on the recognition of pilot licences. many argued that there should be a unform standard for accepting license obtained from other African countries.
To do this however, would also require that all Africa states scale up their safety standards in order to give confidence to other Civil Aviation Authorities to accept their licences as suggested by the Director General of Namibia Civil Aviation Authority, Ms. Toska Sem.
In order to enable the African air transport industry broaden its impact, and to not reinvent the wheel where possible, the YD Day featured sharing of experiences with other continental counterparts including the European Union / European Union Aviation Safety Agency; Latin American Civil Aviation Commission, Association of South East Asia Nations air transport liberalization body and New Zealand. No doubt, from each experience, air transport liberalization is a marathon, not a sprint. The EU for instance said it started with 6 countries and others joined later.
On A Final Note
All said, the benefits of SAATM implementation are not in doubt. And importantly too, the awareness of SAATM and its place in African Air Transport is growing thanks to the AFCAC SAATM PIP Airshows. If anything, the experience of other continents has shown, implementing air transport liberalization is a marathon, not a sprint. Africa has started. AFCAC, as the Executing Agency, has its eyes clearly on the ball. The speed may be slower than expected but the bite-sized approach is working going by the increasing number of fifth freedom routes sprouting up across Africa. By talking to each other new ideas are coming to light. As the Secretary General said: “SAATM is an existential development imperative for Africa.” And we agree no less. Africa must muster the political will to implement it.