Mauritius: Raj Chintaram - "African Airlines control only 20% of the air traffic in the continent"

You will be organizing in the near future a conference on air access in Africa, in Morocco. Why?

African airlines control only 20% of the air traffic in the continent ensuring that average airfare in the continent is higher anywhere else in the world. The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is a flagship project of the African Union Agenda 2063. It aims at creating a single unified air transport market in Africa, the liberalization of civil aviation in Africa. SAATM is seen as a powerful tool for the continent's economic integration agenda.

As at now, 26 Member States have signed the solemn commitment to open African air space with SAATM. It is capable of creating 300,000 direct jobs and an additional 2 million indirect jobs when fully operational. Also, intra- Africa air travels are expected to increase from 75 million passengers as of 2016 to 350 million passengers by 2035 thus breaking the barriers for regional integration.

Needless to say, aviation has become a driver of interregional trade, facilitating connected African countries and regions through a viable air transport industry which could be the vehicle that can boost intra-African business, trade, tourism as well as cultural exchange.

In September 2018, in my capacity of Chair Infrastructure & Energy, I spearheaded the organization of the 1st Symposium on African Air Transport and Tourism in Casablanca, Morocco. We brought on board major airline companies, destination marketers and policy makers to discuss the impacts of SAATM on the air transport and tourism industries in Africa.

How do you view air connectivity between Mauritius and the African continent?

Ethiopian Airlines (ET) is by far the biggest player in the airline industry in Africa; it operates the youngest fleet with over 100 planes. Since long ET has been negotiating with the Government of Mauritius to operate a direct flight from Plaisance to Bole International (Addis Ababa).

Kenya Airways (KQ) is well connected in East Africa and South African Airways (SAA) is also a leader on the African Continent. Opening access to ET may impact on the national carrier but it will surely boost intra-Africa travels with ET connecting almost major cities in Africa.

I have the chance to travel across the continent and Mauritius enjoys a good reputation as a tourist destination, there is the African market which in my opinion has remained untapped. May be with SAATM, we can see more growth in tourist arrivals from Africa.

How can we improve this connectivity?

Government must be bold not to only protect the national carrier but open the sky for competitors; this will make us reap significant benefits in the long run. Trade is the other dimension which has become a game changer as about half of the world's fastest-growing economies will be located on the continent, with 20 economies expanding at an average rate of 5% or higher over the next five years, faster than the 3.6% rate for the global economy. The International Monetary Fund predicts that Africa will remain home to several of the world's fastestgrowing economies in 2019.

The current trade statistics are bound to grow further through the Africa Continental Free Trade Area agreement (AfCFTA), another Agenda, 2063 flagship based on an age long dream for the continent aims at growing intra- African trade from current 12% to over 50%.

What about trade in Africa?

The AfCFTA is a trade agreement with the goal of creating a single market followed by free movement and a single-currency union. The AfCFTA was signed in Kigali, Rwanda on 21 March 2018.

Europe is crumbling down with Brexit but African integration is gaining momentum with the AfCFTA (zone de libre-échange continentale). Mauritius has signed but not yet ratified the AfCFTA however, The Gambia became the 22nd Member State to deposit instruments for ratification, so now the trade agreement has come into force since 30 May 2019. As ECOSOCC we invite the Government of Mauritius to welcome the AfCFTA and be part of the continental development of which, we all Africans, will be proud.

You attended the UN conference on disaster risk reduction. What lessons can we derive from it for Africa? What is according to you, the economic impact of the climate change on the development of African countries?

Agriculture is the main economic activity in Africa and it provides employment for approximately 60% of the African population. For countries depending mainly on agriculture, climate change will pose considerable risks to their livelihood. In some countries, agriculture constitutes more than 50% of GDP. The African Union declared 2019 as the "Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement in Africa." Long ago, displacement of persons was mainly a resultant of conflicts but now there is growing evidence of the impacts such as flooding, drought, deforestation and land degradation leading to migration in Africa. Forced migration obviously has economic impacts and will negatively impact development in the affected regions.

Working in Africa is another kettle of fish. What are the main challenges?

I have personally witnessed a linguistic divide between Anglophones and Francophones, where Anglophones are considered 'superior' to Francophones, but as much diverse is Africa, it is a land where consensus is valued. So far, we have executed our task in consensus with the true spirit of Pan Africanism.

However, there are countries where we do have to face challenges; be it because of their size, of their political regime or diverse interests. Working in Africa is both a passion and a challenge. Today Climate Change is no longer a Myth, that's why we need countries to build Climate Resilience.

Global Platform 2019 was a preparatory meeting organized by the UNDRR (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction). The latter works to reduce the impacts of climate related disasters and also to ensure a sustainable future. The Sendai Framework is central to the management/reduction of climate disasters (adopted in 2015).

The Sendai Framework is a 15-year, voluntary, non-binding agreement which recognizes that the State has the primary role to reduce disaster risk but that responsibility should be shared with other stakeholders including local government, the private sector and other stakeholders.

And what about the response of the Mauritian authorities?

I did not witness much commitment from our Mauritian counterparts; maybe because I was not part of the official delegation representing the Government of Mauritius but rather delegated as representative of ECOSOCC of the African Union.

Target E of the Sendai Framework calls for an increase of the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategies by 2020. Mauritius can at least boast itself to have met Target E and has a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Centre.

Where I feel that there is a weakness is at the level of the local authorities. We need some serious capacity building both for councillors and the staff to deal with climate contingencies.

Every municipality and district council needs to develop a strategy and popularize the same so that the constituents know exactly what to do in case of disaster. We need to accept the fact that we need to be ever ready and properly equipped to face disasters.

DRR should also find its way in our schools. From the administrators to educators, all need to have proper guidance and trickle down the information about DRR at grassroots via the students.

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