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27 African countries “agree” to open their skies but old fears paralyze others

Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon is an investigative journalist and publisher of TODAY NEWS AFRICA L.L.C. based in Washington, District of Columbia, U.S.A. His twitter handle is @simonateba and his email is simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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At least 27 African countries have so far committed to opening their skies but old fears and deep divisions have continued to paralyze other nations.

However, even among the 27 countries that have agreed to implement the treaty for the Single African Air Transport Market, by November 2018, only 14 had signed the memorandum of implementation.

The other countries, including Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, failed last week in Nairobi, Kenya, to sign the implementation of SAATM as the Single African Air Transport Market is known.

The failure by these countries came despite earlier indications that they would sign the final agreement.

On Monday, the African Union Commission, the custodian of the Memorandum of Implementation and African Civil Aviation Commission, which is the executing agency of SAATM announced that 13 African countries would sign the final agreement.

AU claimed the signatories would be Botswana, Burkina Faso, Chad, Egypt, Gabon, The Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Their signatures would have pushed to 27 the number of countries that would have started implementing the open skies policy in Africa.

However, by the end of the meeting, only The Gambia, Botswana and Burkina Faso kept their words.

As a result, the Single African Air Transport Market hailed by the International Air Transport Association last February as “momentous” remains very much incomplete.

SAATM allows aircraft to fly freely between the 27 African states that have agreed to the initiative. Its aim is to deregulate the African airspace.

Negotiations to open up the continent’s skies with a Single African Air Transport Market are being carried out by the African Union.

Raphael Kuuchi, IATA’s Vice President for Africa, said in February 2018 after 23 countries committed to the agreement that it represented a decisive move towards greater intra-African connectivity.

But he also warned the continent will only realize the full benefits aviation provides if implementation is efficient and more countries commit to SAATM.

“Every open air service agreement has boosted traffic, lifted economies and created jobs,” Kuuchi added. “And we expect no less from Africa on the back of the SAATM agreement.

“But the benefits of a connected continent will only be realized through effective implementation of SAATM—firstly by the countries already committed and also by the remaining 32 AU member nations still to come on board.”

SAATM is often referred as the Yamoussoukro Decision, a treaty for open skies among most African countries.

The decision was endorsed by 44 members of the Africa Union in 1999 and became binding in 2002.

But each African nation still has to ratify for the agreement to become law. So far, 27 nations have done exactly that while 25 others have not, paralyzed by old fears and short-term interests.

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