The World Economic Forum on Africa Leader Series: Hassan El Houry

by Hassan El Houry, Group Chief Executive Officer, National Aviation Services, Kuwait 0

1)    What are the prospects for Aviation Services in Africa?

The prospects for aviation services in Africa are tremendous, and have a wide-reaching impact. Let me give a personal example: A few years ago, I met a small business owner on an Emirates flight from Dubai to Dar Es Salaam. She explained to me that this direct flight transformed her tourism business, giving her a broader client base, possible joint venture partners, access to capital, and connectivity. There are thousands of similar stories across the continent.

Though Africans make up 12% of the world’s population, they only account for 3% of the world’s air travel market. As the number of passengers grows exponentially, Africa’s airports will be even more congested, and desperately in need of investment. Tourists, business travellers, medical and religious travel, import and export cargo all need efficient airport infrastructure. With a 6% annual growth rate expected in Africa, and 40 new airports under construction, the potential upside is tremendous.

2)    Outside your own sector, what is your impression of the business environment in Africa?

There are a lot of opportunities in Africa, and countries are increasingly working to make it easier for companies to invest. A few examples: Five years ago, we incorporated a company in Rwanda in less than 48 hours. I don’t think that level of speediness can be matched in many other countries. Last year, we were awarded a concession in Cote d’Ivoire. The management of the entire tender process, and contract implementation, have been world class.

There are challenges in business in every region of the world. In Europe, for example, they are struggling for growth. Most of Africa does not have that problem. Their key challenges, in my opinion, are wealth distribution and abuse of power.

3)    What one technological innovation or business model disruption will have the greatest impact on your business in the next four years?

Privatisation. As governments all over the world feel the fiscal stress, and given that airports are a commercially viable component of a country’s infrastructure, more governments will pursue airport privatization. which will change the aviation landscape in Africa.

There are successful models, like Abidjan Airport, which is fully privatised through AERIA. There is also ACSA in South Africa which owns and operates four major airports. Nigeria has ambitious plans to privatize its airports, and the Chinese are funding a major new privately-owned airport in Khartoum.

Africa accounts for only 1% of the world’s airport investments, partly because private investments will most likely go to big airports, and there are only a few dozen of those in Africa. However, airports are a for-profit enterprise, and their privatization is consistent with a dynamic, high growth, competitive air transport sector.

4)    Is Africa ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Yes, absolutely.

5)    If you could see one thing achieved at the World Economic Forum on Africa, what would it be?

I would like participants to appreciate Africa’s diversity. Africa is made up of 55 countries, and each country is unique in its history, current socio-political standing, and economic trajectory. Blanket statements are often made about Africa, which is the wrong approach, in my opinion..

Africa has the country with the world’s highest proportion of women in government (Rwanda), and the country with the highest maternal and child mortality rate (Chad). It has the world’s largest diamond producer (Botswana), largest cocao producer (Cote d’Ivoire), and yet the lowest GDP per capita (CAR and Malawi). It has the highest birth rate (Niger) and the highest poverty (DRC), yet some of the world’s most environmentally friendly countries (Lesotho). It has some of the world’s fastest growing economies (Ethiopia, DCR, Tanzania, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire) and countries with the world’s highest unemployment rate. It has the world’s oldest human settlement (Ethiopia) and the world’s newest country (South Sudan).

Trying to craft a business strategy, solution to a social challenge, or policy based on “Africa” will prove to be extremely challenging. We need to start looking at Africa’s individual countries, versus painting the continent with one broad stroke.