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Air cargo in Africa: A call for action?

By Ruwantissa Abeyratne on August 28, 2014
Posted in legalledger and tagged africa, Ruwantissa Abeyratne

At the ICAO Meeting on Air Cargo Development in Africa, held Aug. 5-7 in Lome, Togo, many people said many things while expounding statistics and figures. ICAO summarized the first day's discussion: “Airfreight has allowed otherwise remote African regions to access world markets for agricultural and other products. The success of many economies and operations depends on rapid and reliable delivery in the best possible conditions–and airfreight is often the only transportation means to fulfill these requirements.

“The Yamoussoukro Decision established the foundations for Africa’s strategy for the sustainability of air transport, through the harmonization of the aviation regulatory framework and the objective of liberalization of market access. However, in order for Africa to fully reap the benefits of the Yamoussoukro Decision, in particular the opening of air routes and the enhancement of connectivity, increased political will is necessary.”

Of course, one need not go all the way to Lome to hear these words of wisdom. They have been made known to all in aviation for decades, particularly in the countless ICAO meetings on air transport in Africa. However, there are two areas that deserve further examination. The first is the status and implementation of the celebrated Yamoussoukro Decision of 1999. Curiously, the Yamoussoukro Decision was taken to implement the Yamoussoukro Declaration of 1988, 11 years after the Declaration was finally recognized by the African states as going nowhere. Secondly, ICAO did its typical dance of adopting a declaration over a declaration; there is a declaration, followed by a decision, followed by a declaration.

No one in the meeting seems to have challenged the African Civil Aviation Commission, which is the specialized agency of the African Union charged with implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision.

From a legal perspective, one can be forgiven for wondering what these declarations and decisions are. They are certainly not treaties, which at least are considered legally binding on the parties. Are they pacts?

Are the results of these declarations monitored? If their sole reason is to express commitment on the part of countries, how do they demonstrate their commitments? It is arguable that an international declaration, signed by heads of states and setting guidelines and timelines, is a recognizable instrument in international law. However, is a piece of paper that is consensually "adopted" worth the paper it is written on? There have been instances at ICAO meetings where such declarations have been adopted by "acclamation" (i.e. by joint applause of the participants at a meeting!).   

This brings me to part of the ICAO summary at the Lome meeting : “However, in order for Africa to fully reap the benefits of the Yamoussoukro Decision, in particular the opening of air routes and the enhancement of connectivity, increased political will is necessary." Any member of the legal profession would admit that political will can only be demanded and obtained through a treaty – a binding agreement – and not by a declaration which will be quickly forgotten by those who appeared to show consensus at the time it was proclaimed to have been “adopted.”

What Are Your Thoughts?

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