Ready for intra-Africa air travel via Asia, Europe in 2023?

Ready for intra-Africa air travel via Asia, Europe in 2023?
Journalist Johnson Kanamugire (left) poses for a photo with a passenger in Istanbul, Turkey.

Africa is not short of airlines but thanks to failure to liberalise air space, people have got to make transit trips to either Europe or Asia in a bid to reach final destinations on the continent.

I experienced this weeks ago as I traveled to Niamey, Niger from Rwanda’s capital Kigali for a continental conference.

The journey involved flying to Istanbul in Turkey, the meeting point of Asia and Europe, before connecting to Niger.

People and especially fellow scribes who saw my itinerary still think I slept on a much bigger story than what I was chasing in the West Africa nation’s capital.

To start with, they found it odd that I had to fly 5,452 miles away via Asia or Europe to go to an African country 2,193 miles from home.

As I went on to ponder about it and seeking answers as to why things are the way they are, I realised I was not alone.

Fellow Africans -- from Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, DR Congo, Uganda and Egypt, alongside West Africa colleagues who thought Niger was next door as they belong to the same economic bloc (ECOWAS) – also flew to the meeting point of Asia and Europe to get to Niamey.

There are also those who are subjected to lengthy and costly flights to the Gulf whenever they have got to fly within the continent.

We had hopes, however, that since there were policy and decision makers from most African nations onboard they were noting one or two things, and would go ahead to make changes in ways that solve matters.

But something kept telling me that we may be wrong owing to the fact that most of the dignitaries were flying first class to join their seniormost bosses who flew jets.

The juniors among them in the economy section of the aeroplane sat comfortably in ways suggesting that they found it normal.

Stopover

Soon we were to land in Istanbul to spend long layover time (six hours plus), allowing the honourable leaders to try what this part of the world has to offer.

I was told Turkish airlines which carried us does always and deliberately make sure passengers converge in Istanbul as a way to attract traffic that means business to the 'meeting point of the world' as the airline calls the city.

The mega international airport has got everything local and international you may want in assorted quality and prices.

Any international fashion brand, drinks, and others are here. Products most read about in books or see in movies are here in tangible form for flyers to buy.

As I sat in Istanbul staring at the airport notice board, it emerged there is a whole list of flights that leave the continent daily, make transit trips to this part of the world and then back to Africa, and it doesn't sound well in the ears of Africans longing for integration.

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It’s unreasonably costly and time consuming for anyone coming from a continent that has got a national airline in almost every country.

When I thought about the aspect of time, it reminded me of a section of Africans who argue that the continent isn't in a race to catch up with anyone… that time is that one thing Africans have got in plenty.

I always disagree.

On inquiring, experts say the status quo speaks to issues the African continent has for long been grappling with: Failure to liberalise air space amid protectionist measures meant to shield domestic airlines from competition.

Governments need come to the realization that the right time to liberalise air transport under initiatives such as the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) was decades ago.

Protectonist regulations only expose African taxpayers to all sorts of inconveniences, complicate air travel to levels Africans suffer from the most and comes back to haunt air transport sector.

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The restrictions which come in form of fees, taxes and others partly explain why the cost of travelling internally rose way beyond that of travelling to destinations out of the continent.

It hurts trade, movement of people and derails ongoing integration drive. It should not go on like this in 2023.

~ Written by Johnson Kanamugire