‘Cooperation and collaboration are key to liberalization of African skies.’

Interview with Adefunke Adeyemi, Secretary General, AFCAC

The Yamoussoukro Declaration of 1999 is the single most important air transport reform policy impacting the African skies. At the crux of the Declaration was air service liberalization which was fundamental to the economic prosperity of the continent. The Single African Air Transport Market or SAATM is a flagship project of the African Union which aims to achieve economic, social and political integration and promotion of intra-Africa trade. AFCAC is the executing agency of SAATM, launched in 2018, which currently has 36 member states as signatories.

In this interview to AirWaves, the international newsletter of AirlinePros, Adefunke Adeyemi, Secretary General, AFCAC, speaks about the milestones achieved, innovative approaches to ensuring stakeholder buy in, the miles to go and her ways of unwinding in a whirlwind life.

Before AFCAC, you were the IATA focus person for the implementation of SAATM. You have always been a staunch advocate for the sustainability and growth of aviation in Africa.

SAATM is a major initiative which has the potential to lead African into its golden age as far as aviation is concerned. It has the potential to exponentially grow the GDP and generate hundreds of thousands of jobs. My work was about highlighting the value it could create to enable growth and development, even as a catalyst of social good.

Aviation is crucial for the development of Africa, to transform and improve economic and social benefits across the region. I believe firmly that SAATM is one big way to accomplish more security and prosperity for the continent. A careful implementation will enable tourism, facilitate business and trade, bring together families and friends and go a long way in cultural and informational exchanges.

As the Secretary General of AFCAC, set up to facilitate implementation of SAATM, what are the highlights of your tenure so far?

I have been with AFCAC for nearly eight months now even though it feels much longer than that (laughs). But I must say it has been a most exciting and rewarding eight months. As you know, AFCAC was set up to execute SAATM which would allow for the seamless movement of people and goods across Africa but there is no one-size-fits-all solution here. We talk to countries which have their reservations about signing up, address their legitimate apprehensions towards better cooperation.

One of the important highlights was that we were able to make AFCAC more visible, give a clearer idea to partners and stakeholders in the industry and beyond as to what we are doing and how we intend to go about it. A strategic decision was in the appointment of SAATM ambassadors, veterans from aviation and different industries. These ambassadors have not only helped us amplify our messages and reach out better but also engage effectively with states and sectors and forge mutually beneficial relationships.

The SAATM PIP, or the Pilot Implementation Program, was yet another milestone. Of the 36 signatories, there are 20 in the PIP now – a number that is only going up which is encouraging. The countries are further divided into clusters based on specific parameters like language, tourism, business practices and common trading partners. It is important to address all the issues faced by participating countries – both in the PIP and otherwise. Our roadshows accomplish a lot of addressing these issues. We are building in phases and in pieces, around cooperation and collaboration between all parties including travel, trade and aviation stakeholders.

AFCAC is also about ensuring safety, security and environmental protection through sustainable aviation across African. This is something we drive home through consistent messaging with all our stakeholders and partners. You must also have heard about the African Continental Free Trade Area that is designed to make Africa the largest trading block in the world. We are moving steady, one step at a time, well aware that if implemented properly, Africa has the potential to become the fastest growing aviation market in the world.

SAATM has the potential to be a gamechanger in African aviation. What are your recommendations for its implementation?

As I said earlier, there is no universal solution; we are tackling complex issues with varied ramifications. However, broadly speaking, all African states must be willing to implement SAATM and not deny fifth freedom traffic rights to African airlines. Collaboration among airlines to improve connectivity and deliver better quality and choice to fliers is also very important. All the stakeholders must come together to implement the roadmap of air transport sustainability and the recommendations of the African Routes Development Strategy group.

SAATM is designed to be implemented in phases. The idea behind SAATM, which is the liberalisation of the market as per Yamoussoukro framework, is to ensure that multiple cities be connected by the same flight. 

And therefore, the execution of fifth freedom which is crucial for SAATM?

The whole point of SAATM is not talk the talk but to have the implementation of the fifth freedom across African countries. African airlines operate under 15 per cent of their direct flights on fifth freedom while 85 per cent on third and fourth freedom. Non-African airlines operate the bulk of their share on fifth freedom in African. While one cannot overlook the importance of non-African carriers in connecting the continent, we must also understand that the implementation of SAATM is key to make air travel a democratic reality for Africans. Only it has the ability to develop regional air transport which will in turn drive economic growth to benefit African lives.

As with the benefits, the challenges are also many. How do you address them?

We must understand that cooperation and competition are not necessarily always at loggerheads but can complement each other for the bigger good. For this, we engage with the state, aviation operators and airports in dialogue. We track and monitor market activities like visa regimes, tourism policies, taxation rules country by country and give our recommendations with the sole purpose of promoting transfer of people and goods across borders. An important mandate of AFCAC is to ensure that the regulatory instruments are in place – as are the competition and consumer rules. There is also an added thrust to resolution of disputes among and with the help of African states.

There is a wider strategy in place for the roadmap and we have action plans developed with all stakeholders including ICAO, AFRAA, IATA, IOSA, regional aviation players, etc. This is an inclusive exercise where issues are addressed collectively. There may be some states who are not ready to come onboard. But this doesn’t mean that we will go ahead without them, but we will make sure they will see the advantages of SAATM and come around at one point or another. AFCAC dons the role of the facilitator in fostering cooperation and collaboration to bring about fifth freedom routes.

African aviation is gradually but steadily coming to its own. The journey of SAATM is like the journey of life itself – if you give up on qualities like faith, courage and patience, you will not reach anywhere. That said, you can expect a big announcement by the end of the year. 

You are a lawyer, advocate, and a global aviation expert. A thought leader, catalyst of change and an influencer. You are among the MIPAD – Most Influential People of African Descent. Tell us about the Adefunke we don’t know.

I am a product of my upbringing, and I am grateful to everyone who have taken a chance on me. Beginning with my parents, the law firm where I began my career, and its partners, who were instrumental in shaping my work ethics. My IATA colleagues and friends all have played their own definitive roles in moulding me.

To be honest, what I am doing now is not what exactly I had set out to do earlier. But I now believe in the work I do because I believe Africa can emerge stronger only if we work together and connect better with each other. Only if aviation comes of age in Africa will our future be taken care of – children pursuing their dreams, food security across borders, seamless transport, endless opportunities to learn and explore the world. The work we do is important for a more liberalised air transport market in Africa only through which we can realize all these.

Whenever I can, I mentor the youth both within and outside my organization and work with many charities. I listen to a lot of music across genres and time periods, hangout with friends and go distance running.