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Richard Aisuebeogun is a former Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). In this interview with WOLE SHADARE, the air transport specialist speaks on how aviation can leverage on Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement and other benefits for the African continent.
Is the aviation sector ripe enough to take advantage of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement?
In my opinion on the potentials of the Africa Continental Trade Area agreement, as an industry leader and as someone who has transverse the entire continent of Africa, perhaps with reference to specific countries in the region. I have been to virtually all the countries in West Africa; I have been to East Africa several times, I have made presentations in Africa. I have been to Southern Africa several times including Central Africa as well.
I want to tell you that it is one of the greatest initiatives that ever came out of the Africa Union to promote economic growth, to promote socio-economic growth, to promote regional growth in this initiative of the Africa Free Trade Continental Area agreement.
If you ask me what the AFCTA after is basically the AU desired for the continent of Africa and its regional economies is the elimination if not a total reduction of tariff and I am talking of trade tariff and not trade tariff barriers among the 54 African countries and this has been agreed by member nations with a view to providing basic, a single market for goods and services across the continent and this is expected to be facilitated by the free movement of persons with little or no barriers in order to depend on the economic integration and prosperity of the continent.
Why do we need this?
This is the question. On the largest scale, Africa should be seen as a single market with free movement of persons and business with free movement of goods and services across the continent. That way, you pave way for the acceleration of the establishment of Customs union.
That is supposed to be the rider to the Single market that the AU is trying to establish. It is believed that if this is done, it would not only promote economic, but would promote socio, cultural, and regional development of Africa. For me as an air transport specialist with a special focus on Africa as a continent, we are seeing that this initiative would definitely not only eliminate the tariff on intra-Africa trade but would make it for businessmen to trade within Africa and benefit from their own growing market.
As soon as that becomes a Germain issue and sprout out like a seed that is sown on the floor on the ground that is growing, it is going to ride on the back of air transport. It becomes easier for airlines to grow in Africa just like you have in the entire continent of Europe. There is virtually no part of Europe that you cannot fly into from one particular spot because you have airlines flying the entire continent of Europe. We know that is not the case in Africa. I don’t want to go deep into that.
We have talked about it for over 30 years. The challenge of flying across Africa is a major challenge. If we find it a major challenge to fly across Africa or within Africa via an intra-Africa transport system, then, you can imagine how it is going to limit the economic development of the region.
Benefits of the free trade zone
Air transport will benefit because, at that point, there would be no longer barriers. You can wake up and be saying I have been talking to the guys across the other side of Africa like East Africa and need to go to Mombassa in Kenya, I need to go to Madagascar in the Indian Ocean which is part of Africa, I need to go to Mauritius which is part of Africa even though it is right in the Indian Ocean and transact my business. You do not need a visa, you do not need any restriction.
That is what the AU is promoting, particularly, that is why the Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM) is to be developed to ride on the back of the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement. It is a wake-up call for us when this agreement was signed. I think this is the greatest initiative that has come out of the Africa Union and now is the time for leaders in Africa to drive this initiative like we have done with the Yammaussoukro Accord, with the Cape Town Convention, and with the Banjul Accord. All of these accords were meant to drive air transport in Africa not just in the West African sub-region but in the entire African continent. Any country that fails to embrace this certainly does not want air transport growth in its own part of Africa.
How optimistic are you over this agreement because you sound so optimistic about its benefits?
I am a very optimist pan Africa air transport specialist and I believe that the only way we can compete with the best of Europe and the rest of Asia as it is today is for us to have a Single Africa Air Transport Market driven by the Continental Free Trade Agreement where you have a common Customs border and possibly common currency. We should have common passports across Africa.
As a matter of fact, I am saying that in the regions of Africa, there should be one passport. I am an ECOWAS citizen, I should have an ECOWAS card and I should be able to go all the way from Nigeria to Cape Verde in the South Atlantic Ocean after Senegal. I should be able to come all the way down if you have common African travel cards.
I keep saying that in all the interviews I have granted and in my presentations in the last two years. We need to have citizens’ travel cards that enable us to go to South Africa, Banjul, Nairobi, Cairo without any limitations for legitimate reasons to do business that will engender economic growth for Africa and its citizens.Google+