African countries a no-show at open skies agreement signing

Saturday December 15 2018

Airlines at an airport.

Planes at Kigali International airport. Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is operational in 14 countries, mostly West Africa. PHOTO | CYRIL DEGEYA | NMG 

By ALLAN OLINGO
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More than 10 countries including Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa failed to sign the implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) last week in Nairobi.

This is despite earlier indications that they would, exposing reservations countries still have in opening up their airspace.

On Monday, the African Union Commission, the custodian of the Memorandum of Implementation and African Civil Aviation Commission, which is the executing agency of the ingle African Air Transport Market (SAATM) had announced that 13 African countries would sign into the implementation of the SAATM.

The signatories were Botswana, Burkina Faso, Chad, Egypt, Gabon, The Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe would have pushed to 27 the countries who would have started implementing the open skies policy.

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

In May, 14 African states including Rwanda signed the implementation protocol in Lome, Togo.

“Kenya is also committed towards the full realisation of the African Union’s initiative that will see Africa converging into one air service market. To this end, Kenya is one of the 25 states that have so far signed up for the SAATM,” Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta said, while opening the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Air Services Negotiations conference in Nairobi.

Implementation

However despite President Kenyatta’s optimism, Kenya did not come through on its word to sign up to its implementation, having signed the solemn commitment earlier this year.

Kenya is yet to align its national laws with the treaty and as such it could not sign on to its implementation.

“The ratification has to go through parliament and we are made aware that some countries are yet to do that. That could explain their no-show at the signing ceremony,” The EastAfrican was told.

The concerns of the countries that gave last week’s event a wide berth included terms and conditions that states need to develop between the regional countries on its local implementation.

“Some of these countries said they are still assessing the impact of international carriers in their domestic market, the terms and conditions on how these foreign carriers would operate within domestic airspace and the amendments of bilateral air service agreement. They are also yet to agree to new multilateral air service agreements for international carriers,” The EastAfrican was told.

The SAATM is operational in 14 countries, mostly West Africa with states like Togo already operationalising it through agreements with other countries, where cross-border flights are now treated as domestic flights in the region.

“Unfortunately in East Africa, we are yet to operationalise it, one because some member state have not yet signed onto the agreement, with only Kenya and Rwanda having signed the solemn commitment,” Kenya Civil Aviation director general Capt Gilbert Kibe said in an earlier interview.

Protectionism

The African Civil Aviation Commission’s secretary general Tefera Mekonnen told The EastAfrican that despite the poor showing at the signing ceremony, he remained optimistic that that the remaining countries would come around and commit to the agreement.

“We know that the delay in their commitment is a result of consultations and also aligning their laws to accommodate this new dawn. I am confident that these countries will commit to the decision in the coming days. So far we are positive on the progress of the signing of the memorandum of implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision,” Mr Tefera said.

Kenya’s no-show comes when its national carrier chief executive officer Sebastian Mikosz has accused Ethiopia of protectionism and argued that implementation of the open skies policy should be ensure countries offer a level playing field for all-comers.

“Ethiopian Airlines do not allow more operators into their country. This protectionism is harmful to the expected establishment of a single aviation market across the continent.

“It is easier to expand where there is no protectionism. We cannot, however, compete on the same playing field because we have different models,” Mr Mikosz said at the conference.

The Kenya Airways chief instead called for a cautious approach in the implementation of the single sky treaty, noting that it only benefits countries that are sponsored.

“While the heads of state approved the regulatory framework for SAATM, their countries are yet to agree on a dispute settlement mechanism,” said Raphael Kuuchi, IATA’s special envoy to Africa for aero-political affairs.

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