Guyana for the first time will host an International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) five-day air transport conference on November 19 to 23, under the theme, “Promoting Connectivity for Sustainable Air Transport Development.” However, it takes two to three days to reach Guyana from Europe, Asia and Africa and airfares are exorbitant. In terms of air connectivity, the country is also very isolated from the rest of South America.
The five-day agenda will include topics on: national aviation issues; how Guyana can invest in aviation; harmonisation and the economic benefits; liberalisation of air cargo; stimulation of investment and the promotion of air links between Africa and the African Diaspora.
Ironically, there are 54 countries in the African continent and, with the exception of only four countries — Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland — nationals of the remaining 50 African countries must possess a visa to visit Guyana. On the other hand, Guyanese don’t need a tourist visa or can apply for an e-visa; or get one on arrival to visit some 25 African countries, including Uganda, Kenya, Mauritius, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Malawi, Botswana, Gabon, the Gambia, Egypt, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Guyana has offered none of these countries reciprocity.
Africa’s aviation industry is rapidly growing and will further grow since the continent just adopted a single aviation market at the last African Union summit in Addis Ababa. These are some of the reasons why Africa is getting attention from the diaspora.
Finally, Africans don’t need to fly to Paris, London or Brussels to reach Dakar, Conakry, Abidjan or Maputo. Africa’s air connectivity and aviation infrastructure are rapidly growing. Air connectivity across the continent is quickly improving because of well run and profitable airlines like Ethiopia, Royal Air Maroc and Mauritius Airlines that are building regional hubs on the continent. South African Airlines and Kenya Airways will bounce back into profitable companies.
With more airports being built and existing ones being expanded and modernized, airlines like Ethiopia are creating hubs through joint ventures across Africa. New airports were just opened in Accra and Dakar. Airport expansion and modernization are ongoing in Kigali, Luanda, Lusaka, Lagos, Maputo, Entebbe, Dar es Salaam, Victoria Falls, Lome, Windhoek, Cairo, Casablanca, etc.
Minister within the ministry of public infrastructure, Annette Ferguson, and others in the government have stated numerous times that Guyana is “ideally placed geographically to facilitate and make the distance shorter for intercontinental trade and investment to continents such as South America, Africa and North America.” However, Guyana has yet to conclude aviation agreements with strategic African countries to improve connectivity. But, there has been some progress because air agreements were signed with Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. Next will be Ethiopia and Rwanda, countries with strong national airlines.
Ferguson said: “Guyana is buzzing about oil and gas. This industry, we feel, will do well for this country. However, I feel very strongly that we must not take off the prize. Air transport and the numerous spin-off businesses must be sustained to keep our economy vibrant.”
Some in the foreign service allege that Guyana and Suriname visa “blockade” against Africa isn’t based on racism, ignorance and Islamophobia, but because Africa is not on their “radar.” A diplomat also said that there are concerns of human trafficking, narco-trade, terrorism and pandemics. Africa is the only Muslim-majority continent, and like Haiti the world has imposed a visa “blockade” against the continent. The socio-economic and cultural diversity of the continent is not considered or many are ignorant of that fact, remarked one diplomat.
Guyana is looking to put in place an e-visa policy and modify its visa regime, especially as it relates to its discriminatory policy against the entire continent. The foreign minister of Guyana, Carl Greenidge, is understood to be looking into this issue.