COMMENT Louis Gitinywa 16 April 2021
After Asia, Africa is the world’s second fastest growing region. Yet across the different regional blocs there are big challenges in driving sustainable growth, boosting employment and tackling poverty. One important factor and economic sector is the aviation transport, fostering tourism, export and connectivity.
According to 2018 United Nation’s World Tourism Organization report, tourism accounted for 10% of global GDP. 63 million people flew into the African continent amounting for 37$billion in revenue. Before the slowdown of 2020 due to Covid-19 pandemic, Africa was the fastest growing aviation market in the world and the tourism numbers were expected to double by 2030. The airline industry has come on tremendously in recent years; huge efforts are being made to shake off the old perceptions that flying in Africa is “unsafe, uncomfortable and uncompetitive”.
Despite the best efforts, intercontinental travel remains a great challenge, with hardly any direct routes to African capitals. There remain many barriers which prevent a free movement across borders to neighbouring countries. In order to remedy to this situation, the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) was established and formally introduced in January 2018, during the 30th ordinary summit of African Union held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Single African Air Transport Market is one of the flagship projects under the African Union Agenda 2063, alongside the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). The single African air market can be used as a launch pad for African countries to improve the integration into the global economy and to further increase their trade volume.
The SAATM seeks to create a single unified air transport market in Africa, by enhancing regional economic integration through the liberalization of civil aviation. Under the SAATM an eligible airline or air carrier from one African country can simply get into another African country’s airspace and land on its territory using only a simple prior notification procedure. So far, a total of 32 African countries made a solemn commitment to implement the Single African Air Transport Market.
Relaxing the Grip of Nationalism through Regional Economic Integration
The political will of African nations to create its single skies to enable such competition is welcomed. But on the other hand it is feared: will it threaten the existence of national carriers?
African governments need to support air transport as a means of generating greater revenues for their countries rather than take from them. The barriers are put in place from the very people that are calling for liberalization– governments.
Besides that, it is also expected that the single African air market will help the continent to attract much needed investments in infrastructure. Addressing such infrastructure bottlenecks will contribute to improve regional connectivity as well as the competitiveness of African exports. African airlines continue to lose money compared to the rest of the world. African airlines operating in the continent, for instance Rwandair, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and Air Tanzania, still struggle with a fragmented connectivity network, high airport charges and fees, high fuel costs and heavy taxation.
Political Will and Implementation
Moreover, it is important to stress on the importance of political will in making things happen especially when it comes to trade and regional integration agreements, the devil lies in the implementation. Therefore, the road towards a timely and effective implementation requires African governments to go beyond “business as usual“ by demonstrating a clear political will and political commitment to the regional integration cause. In this regard, it is now critical for the heads of African states and governments to monitor the implementation progress of the single African air transport market. The outlook leaves us hopeful for governments to take the heed and review their domestic regulations and practices.
Louis Gitinywa is a Rwandan Advocate. He is a senior partner at RDA Attorneys LLP. He is also 2017 TGCL Alumni and holds an LL.M from the University of Dar Es Salaam, (Tanzania) and a Post graduate Diploma in Constitutional Law from Central European University, (CEU- Budapest), Hungary. His field of research is in Trade law, International Economic Law and Regional integration, Tech & ICT law, Fintech.
 ECOWAS, EAC, SADC, COMESA, ECCAS, IGAD, UMA, CEN-SAD
 Africa Visa Openness and Visa Openness Index Report 2018