Having recently reached my 25th birthday, I took time to reflect on my life and was left quite satisfied with how things have panned out thus far in my life. However, a couple of days after my birthday while taking a walk along the social media ‘streets’, I came across a hilarious article of a certain Nigerian plane that lost its emergency door while landing in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. What struck me, however, was not the fact that an emergency door could fall off (as funny as it is) but that I was 25 and had never been inside a plane to know what an emergency door was or which side could one find it on a plane.
The whole thing got to me, I felt embarrassment. Some few hours after this incident, I went out and met a few of my friends, feeling embarrassed to ask them directly if anyone of them had ever been on a plane, I decided to tell the story of the Nigerian plane that lost its emergency door while landing as a joke and then to introduce the topic of emergency doors on a plane to hear their views and gauge if any or all of them had ever been on a plane. After, some discussions, I felt that just like me, none of my friends had ever been on a plane and for assurance, I then directly asked the question and all confirmed they had never boarded a plane before.
While the topic didn’t last long, when I left the company of my friends, I decided to look more into Zimbabwean flights in particular and Africa as a whole. I found some shocking results from my small research, while I could travel by air to resort destinations in my country, I had to travel by road first to the capital, Harare, which is roughly 276 km from my hometown, Gweru. I also found out that if I wanted to travel to East, West or North African countries, it was way cheaper for me to travel to Europe first. There are few direct flights between Harare and other African countries and where they are, it is very expensive to use the direct flight.
Against this background, it became clear to me that my dream of traveling by air locally may remain a dream for the time being as it’s pointless to travel nearly 300km to the nearest airport.
However, travelling by air to other countries seems to be the dream that will turn into reality for me soon thanks to the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) which was signed by 23 African Union (AU) member states recently.
SAATM which is the flagship project of the African Union Agenda 2063 is set to improve intra-African air connectivity and open up Africa’s skies.
The African Union while launching SAATM stated that the continent will realise many benefits from the initiative. Among the benefits to be realised from SAATM include the stimulation of demand from improved competitiveness and more accessible air travel. As Africa’s skies open up, more airlines will open routes for intra-Africa destinations and in the process lead to a more competitive air travel industry which will induce demand as ticket prices decrease.
SAATM will also grow commerce between African countries and the international community. As trade increases between African countries, economies of African countries will also rise. According to a 2014 study by the International Air Transport Association, liberalising routes for 12 key African countries would boost the continent’s economy and add $1.3 billion to the continent’s annual GDP while at the same time creating 15 000 jobs. As implementation of SAATM starts, these and other developments will become noticeable.
Tourism is the other area which is going to be significantly boosted by SAATM. African tourism has been inhibited by expensive travels thus SAATM will go a long way in easing this challenge. Factoring in also the recent developments by most African governments to relax visa requirements for African nationals shows that the future of African tourism is on the up.
The 23 AU member states that are part of the SAATM are Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.
The remaining 32 AU member states are expected to commit to SAATM in the near future.
SAATM is a great initiative of the AU in that it directly helps people like me to turn their dreams into a reality. It helps African businesses and start-ups to connect with other businesses from other African countries and it promotes African tourism. As such, AU should be applauded for this brilliant initiative.