By Nick Wilson
LONDON — Asky founder and chairman Gervais Djondo was taken by “surprise” that South African Airways (SAA) was considering acquiring an interest in the Togo-based airline, he said on Monday night.
The group had financing needs like any other airline, but this did not mean that it was “ready to sell itself to any company”.
Mr Djondo said Asky was an “independent Pan African company” and had never “engaged in such discussions” with any institution about the sale of a stake to the loss-making South African national carrier.
He was speaking in an interview before a question and answer event hosted by Ecobank and the Africa Centre in Mayfair, London.
Earlier this month, Business Day reported that SAA was considering a equity stake in Asky as part of a strategy to develop its West African business.
SAA CE Monwabisi Kalawe was quoted as saying a team would visit Ghana early next month to assess the country’s potential as a regional hub for SAA-operated flights.
Mr Kalawe said the trip was at the invitation of Ghanaian aviation officials, who had signed an agreement for the Airports Company South Africa to upgrade airports there.
An option reportedly under consideration was partnering with Ghanaian investors to acquire part of Asky, which operates out of the Togolese capital of Lomé, and relocate it to Accra.
Mr Djondo, a co-founder of Togo-based Ecobank Transnational, said Asky, which was officially launched in 2010, had chosen Ethiopian Airlines as a technical partner and that their agreement had been in place for the past five years. “I am firmly saying that SAA is not buying a stake in Asky.
“I have never been approached or discussed with any representative of SAA about buying a potential stake in Asky.”
SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali confirmed on Tuesday there were no discussions about SAA buying a stake in Asky. “We would like to emphasise that the engagements are exploratory in nature and no commitments have been made towards them at this stage.
“We intend looking at pragmatic options which take into account our present day realities — that SAA’s financial position has yet to strengthen. Once the diaries have been harmonised, based on the availability of the parties concerned, discussions will take place and we will get an opportunity to state our case, as it were,” he said.
One of SAA’s key objectives was to look at a West African hub that is commercially viable and for that to be realised it needed to consider small airlines operating in that region to provide feeder capability, Mr Tlali said.
Mr Djondo said SAA, Ethiopian Airlines and Egypt Airlines had held discussions about setting up an African hub, but he believed there was no reason to think about moving the hub from Lomé to Accra.
Turning to the Ecobank corporate governance crisis earlier this year, Mr Djondo said: “The Ecobank crisis is clearly behind us today.
“As in all institutions, the best way to resolve crises is to sort them out internally. I think that all the issues have been sorted out.
“I believe the future is now ahead of us.”
Ecobank, which operates in 33 African countries, has had a difficult year. This followed a llegations of mismanagement being levelled against it, and an investigation being launched into its corporate governance by Nigeria’s securities and exchange commission.
In March, its CEO Thierry Tanoh was dismissed after calls from Ecobank’s largest shareholder, South Africa’s Public Investment Corporation (PIC). He has been replaced by Albert Essien.
Mr Djondo said having the PIC as a shareholder was a “good thing” for Ecobank and there was “no issue about the risk of domination by any party of another one”. Ecobank’s “vision is to be a Pan African bank and no one has to be excluded from that vision”.
Ecobank would, in the same spirit, accept South Africa’s fourth largest bank Nedbank in the same way it had “accepted all the other shareholders”, Mr Djondo said.
Nedbank has until November to decide whether to convert a $285m loan made to Ecobank into a shareholding in the business.
In terms of the agreement, Nedbank can take a stake of up to 20% in Ecobank.
THE founder and chairman of regional African airline Asky Airlines on Monday night criticised the spate of new national airlines coming to the African market, saying they were doomed to fail unless they went the “Pan African route”.
“If each country wants to have its own airline company, they are not going to survive,” said Gervais Djondo in a question and answer session hosted by Ecobank and the Africa Centre at Sketch in Mayfair, London. The continent needed regional airlines rather than national ones because the industry was capital intensive.
He predicted that all recently launched national airline companies would “disappear in three to five years”.
Mr Djondo said regional airline companies were the future to ensure mobility of the population in Africa as they could share the burden of costs.
Further, Mr Djondo believed it was essential that African countries started trading with each other more.
He was concerned that of all trade on the African continent, only 14% was conducted between African countries, he said.
In contrast to Africa, in Asia, 65% of the total trade was between countries on the continent, Mr Djondo said.