We need planes and lots of them!!

In flagrant contradiction, some may say, to my tale about city air, I am now going to argue for more planes in the West African skies. Plenty more and plenty cheaper. Sorry about that.

Actually no. Not sorry at all. Care to know why?

West Africa is where the EU was sixty years ago, even under similar circumstances. We have at least five countries slowly emerging from decades of debilitating political instability and war (Côte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia, maybe even Guinea Bissau and Mali to a lesser extent). Others, like Guinea, are dangerously heading in the opposite direction or starting to sail into hazardous territory (Senegal, Niger). But in the main, things have started to look better. What we now need is growth, jobs – and we need it fast before everyone has left on those dreadful fishing boats.

But who’ll deliver? Easy: Africa and nobody else. Fortress Europe is closed, no trader bothers going there. Aid doesn’t work; we all know that. Asia is selling more to Africa than vice versa, the Americas are distant friends at best. There is an urgent need to start doing some very serious business – right here.

For this you must be able to move around. And there’s the rub: we have no infrastructure. Many roads that carry people, goods, money, trade are in an appalling condition. Examples? Dakar-Bamako by bus sets you back two days (the train takes twice as long). Including a slow border crossing, a dodgy night at the bus station at Kayes, Mali – and long stretches of road on the Senegalese side where the maximum speed is that of a horse-drawn cart.

Two days. Meanwhile: flying time from Dakar to Bamako? One hour.

Here’s another one. Abidjan – Ouagadougou. Lovely train ride, I have done it myself. But the tracks are so old that the average speed on this 1100-plus kilometre stretch is…28km/hr. You do the math. And don’t forget to include the long delays at the border.

Again: two days. Flying time from Abidjan to Ouaga? One hour thirty minutes.

But it’s not just time. In Guinea, Mali you can’t travel at night. Bandits. In Ivory Coast, you pay at every road block; Nigeria is worse. Pickpockets in uniform. I once crossed from Sierra Leone into Liberia with a four friends who did not speak English. The Sierra Leonean border guards, police, customs, immigration officials manning the 17 (!!!) control posts, all of which had to be passed on foot in the driving rain, robbed them of an amount that would have almost covered the price of an air ticket.

“Almost”. Because flying in this region is criminally expensive. A six- hour trip from here to Yaoundé, Cameroon, just set me back one thousand euros. That’s 50 per cent MORE than I paid for my six months Amsterdam-Dakar round trip. That one-hour flight to Bamako is certain to cost me upwards of €300. Abidjan? Could be €400-plus. And I am dreading the booking of my Monrovia trip. The company that flew there from Dakar has just folded…

These are 1980s Europe prices. Reason: the prolonged existence of under-scale, top-heavy and mostly inefficient state-run monopolies of the kind that got destroyed in Europe in the 1990s. (Exceptions do exist in both places.) The other reason is taxation. The Copenhagen climate summit has not brought in the booty that many states in these parts had been hoping for. That’s bad news for the patronage systems that underpin these states. But taxation on air tickets has been increased three, fourfold. Fully one-third of my Yaoundé ticket was tax. No one knows where this money goes. Not good, not good at all…

Here’s the inconvenient truth. The kind of trips that West Africans have to endure in order to get to the next country, visit family, friends, do business would kill most of you reading this. It will take a lot of time to build the infrastructure that has made travelling in Europe such a walk in the park. And until such a time, flying is the alternative. Putting this option beyond the reach of, say, 95% of the people is quite simply, criminal.

So easyjet: Come On In! Africans move about in great numbers and they will bring the cash if someone can even half the kind of wretched stress, misery, humiliation, agony and unwanted expenses they endure on the road. There is a growing middle class of professionals, ex-migrants and entrepreneurs and for them, a no-frills, low-cost airline would be an immense bonus. Family visit to Bamako? A €120 round trip is doable. Business in Abidjan? €180 maximum. No hassles, no huge losses of time, no bribes to pay, no fear of bandits, just a smooth 2 hours 30 minutes and you’re there.

Going to Yaoundé I was offered to fly through…Brussels, Paris, Casablanca, Addis Ababa and Nairobi. I finally settled for the only one that would not take me halfway round the world. This simply will not do. Oh and the fare? I’d be happy to see it cut to, say, €400. Not exactly low cost but it’s getting there.

yep - talking about more of these.....

(I have emailed easyjet – they haven’t replied yet…)

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One Response to “We need planes and lots of them!!”

  1. Border crossings: same country, worlds apart | Bram Posthumus - Yoff Tales Says:

    […] If people could afford travelling like this, they would, at the drop of a hat. Would you believe it…I wrote this ten years ago! […]

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