If African governments really want open borders then the place to start is in the skies. Statesmen, visionaries, idealists and revolutionary leaders have been discussing what a united Africa would look like for decades, long before many nations achieved independence.
The concept is sometimes seen as a contentious topic but the fact of the matter remains; Africa is one of the richest regions on the planet. Opening up its borders through inexpensive air travel could give way to an era of prosperity that economists can only imagine.
Open Borders Already Exist, But to a Limited Extent
Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi already share open borders under a deal known as the East African Community (EAC) arrangement, allowing their citizens unrestricted freedom of movement in EAC member states.
These kinds of policies enable the free movement of people between jurisdictions with few or no restrictions.
Despite Africa’s achievements in this particular segment, the Western World is still leagues ahead, given that countries such as Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland Italy, Latvia and Liechtenstein, among others have had open borders from as early as 1995.
This adds to the fact that parts of Europe have advanced railway networks that allow their citizens to live in one country and work in another without the hassle of everyday traffic. This is almost impossible in many parts of Africa where a flight is the fastest way to move from one country to another.And in this regard, many nations, some of them land-locked, are hindered by their borders.
Air travel is still seen as a luxury for hundreds of millions of people across the continent and it is high time that changed.
A number of low-cost carriers have already taken up the mantle and are growing in popularity. From airlines such as Fly540, Jambojet, Safair, Mango and Dana Air, Africa has seen the emergence of inexpensive carriers take the continent by storm. This comes even as larger, more-established airlines struggle to stay afloat.
But ticket prices are still too high. And border-related bureaucracy makes even an affordable flight seem too expensive.
Mankind has been able to traverse the air for over a hundred years yet most African have never been on a plane while others have never seen a runway. If the trend continues, some never will.
African governments and aviation sector stakeholders have been debating an ‘open sky policy’ for what seems like an eternity. And deals such as Code Share Agreements have indeed eased air travel for the few that can afford it.
But the fact remains that Africa’s skies are not as open as they should be.
The social and economic benefits of air travel cannot be understated, and they shouldn’t be.
Endless Benefits and Opportunities Await
Endless benefits and opportunities are to be had if only more private sector players were to join the fray. According to a report from the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) – an independent coalition of organisations and companies throughout the air transport industry – 70% of businesses report that serving a bigger market is a key benefit of using air services.
“Aviation provides the only worldwide transportation network, which makes it essential for global business and tourism. It plays a vital role in facilitating economic growth, particularly in developing countries,” says ATAG’s analysis.
The Group explains that aviation provides the only worldwide transportation network, which makes it essential for global business and tourism.
“It plays a vital role in facilitating economic growth, particularly in developing countries,” says the report.
Investors Need to Keep the Ball Rolling
In fact, aviation transports close to 2 billion passengers annually and 50% of interregional exports of goods as counted by value. It is no surprise then that 40% of international tourists now travel by air.
This adds to the fact that the air transport industry generates a total of 29 million jobs globally through direct, indirect, induced and catalytic impacts. Imagine what this could mean for Africa, a region known to suffer disproportional rates of unemployment.
ATAG’s analysis notes that aviation’s global economic impact is estimated at $2,960 billion, equivalent to 8% of world Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The Group states that the world’s 900 airlines have a total fleet of nearly 22,000 aircraft. And according to the International Airports Council (ACI), they serve some 1,670 airports through a route network of several million kilometres. This is managed by around 160 air navigation service providers, according to the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation, a representative body of companies that provide air traffic control.
Aside from the job opportunities that more low cost airlines would provide, adding competitive prices could turn remote villages into investment hubs. More airlines means more freedom to travel. It could also mean less road traffic, especially for countries like Kenya, whose Capital City of Nairobi is home to one of the world’s most frustrating commutes.
It is somewhat shocking to learn that there are villages in parts of the continent where an airplane is still seen as a spectacle when it should be the norm.
What’s worse is that even urbanites see air travel as a reserve of the rich that requires weeks if not months of planning.
It doesn’t take much to convince would-be carriers that opportunities are abound. But perhaps some investors still need a nudge in the right direction. The numbers alone should be enough to convince anyone with the money, time and the needed infrastructure to set up their own airline.
And if the concept seems risky, then maybe they should re-evaluate their way of thinking and try to understand what it means to invest in Africa.
According to a 2017 report from Boeing, one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, there will be a need for 39,620 new planes over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, 1.2 billion people live on the African continent. If more of them could afford to travel by plane, even the smallest regional airlines would stand to make a fortune.