Tourism and Aviation: The future of Africa

Professor Molefe Asante, one of the top Afrocentric academics always counsels that ‘’ the truth requires no defence, the truth is its own defence’’. We as people speak truth to power we vocalising our feelings, aspirations, fears and the conditions that create freedom from the unfreedoms in our lives.  Michael Radu titled a piece Does Africa Exist? noted that ‘’for more than four decades, African elites and their intellectual mentor sin the West have comfortably lived with a faction: that whatever is wrong in the continent-tribalism, corruption, genocide, falling states, poverty and HIV/AIDS-is somebody’s else’s faulty…

The really guilty ones are in London, Paris, and Madrid, ‘’Africa’’ is innocent’’. When I read this 2013 piece, I was angry so many years ago, but upon reflection maybe Michael Radu was right, maybe Africa is an incidence of history. How can you explain the fact that as global wealth is increasing African poverty is stagnant, and Africa has to beg the West for help, Africa basically has the West on SOS.

One industry that can unfree Africa from the shackles of intergenerational poverty, underdevelopment and low growth is tourism. The facts are that Africa governments sought to use tourism to ignite economic growth was initially introduced as part of structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) as tourism is an export product. Africa receives less than 7% of international global receipts, which means that the majority of tourism happens between countries in the West, countries that need the least the developmental benefit of tourism. A report by the European Commission estimates that international arrivals in Europe will be 717 million in 2020, whereas in 2003 the arrivals were 414 million.

The world depends on developed countries as the major source of outbound international tourism to redistributes income to the undeveloped and Third World Countries. Tourism to Africa is dominated by Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Kenya, Mauritius and South Africa.

This cannot be correct when you consider the variety that Africa as a continent has to offer. The reason for this reality is that African government are not serious about changing the reality of their citizens, it’s only fair for Michael Radu to ask if Africa really exists. The natural resource base that Africa has can sustain tourism growth, but Africa is not globally competitive. The lack of political will to create a competitive African tourism product must be our collective obsession.

We must create freedom liberate tourism growth in Africa. I think each country must develop a National Tourism Red Tape Initiative (NTRTI) that will look at the multi-sector and cross-cutting nature of tourism, ensuring that unfreedoms and bottlenecks in tourism are reduced and removed. This can start from visa regulations that impede intra-African tourism.

It’s laughable that Europeans are exempt from visa’s amongst the majority of African countries, whilst we as African apply visa apartheid without fail. South Africa knows all too well the impact of the recently relaxed visa regulations as it suffered economic decline because of introducing the visa regulations on 01 June 2015.

The second unfreedom to African tourism growth is low aviation connectivity. Aviation not only provides a fast transport and logistics system that is good for business, aviation has a social benefit for society. Aviation’s connectivity improved productivity, benefiting customers and businesses, this attracts investments and facilitating trade, and aid, the opium of African governments.

In many African destinations it is cheaper and faster to fly to Europe first and then to fly from Europe to African destinations. African countries have not liberalised aviation, which has meant that routes have been dominated by their national flag carriers, and this has not attracter competition which would have reduced prices, increased connectivity, driven economic growth and changed the face of life on Africa. Well, because Africa does not exist we have a laisser-faire attitude to this reality, I think we as African we actually love it. If we did not see it as an unfreedom, we would change it.

African governments seem to be unshaken about this unfreedom of proportional proportion, to them it is business as usual, not a care in the world. African governments have tip toed since 2000 to implement the Yamoussoukro Decision that intended to create Africa’s open sky policy. From them to now, consistency in making promises has been the order of the day. African countries not deterred about their trademark consistency in making threats, did what they know best, they threatened again during their May 2015 meeting to create a Single Market for Air Transport Services in Africa by 2017.

Well 2017 is only a few months away, we are hopeful African countries will take responsibility and create a single market for aviation in Africa, which will revolutionaries the lives of Africans, and that will prove Michael Radu wrong. But the current reality remains, Michael Radu is correct, Africa does not exist. Let us accept with humility the advise of Mao Tse-Tung that ‘’ Let flowers of many kinds blossom. Let diverse schools of thought contend’’.

Mr. Unathi Sonwabile Henama is a tourism expert and writes in his personal capacity.

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