West Africa Rising: Senegal hopes new $450 million airport will make it a world trade hub
Senegal's government wants its new airport to become a 21st-century global hub, but why don't African infrastructure projects link the region's cities to each other better?
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Passengers, of course, will foot the bill. Speaking to the local press last month, Senegal airlines chief executive – who didn't answer his cellphone when I called for comment – bragged that his airline won't bring down those quadruple-digit ticket prices a smidgen. It may help that Senegal's Air Transport Ministry reportedly denied Lomé-based Asky Airlines the right to tack Dakar onto the carrier's map of destinations.Skip to next paragraph
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"There is a potential for an inter-regional market that has yet to be fully developed," the World Bank wrote in a report last year.
Anybody whose ever tried to transport themselves or their belongings around this continent of seven-people taxis and mini-vans overloaded with sacks of yams – always yams – knows what a regular schedule of domestic, Africa-bound flights could mean for the continent's growing middle class.
But the problem is that Africans can't afford it – really, who can?
But there's hope.
Airport scenes on that side of the continent are starting to smack of East Asia, circa 1990, writes Mr. French.
"A strange sense of déjà vu hit me as I lugged my too-heavy carry-ons through Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta Airport," he wrote last month. "All of the hallmarks of that old Southeast Asia travel hub [Bangkok, Thailand] were in evidence: endless, doughty, glass-enclosed duty free shops flogging Timex watches and Remington shavers, miniature TVs and music players of all descriptions, along with such staples as international power adapters to choice-deprived consumers. It was old Bangkok without the airport massages, and at least at this hour, without the bustle."
The veteran hand on African affairs is writing a book on China's herculean adventure through the continent. The People's Republic is cleaning un-cleansable stables, paving the remotest of roads, and plopping down railways as if its 1899.
If America is looking for a Great Leap Forward-scale China-style infrastructural epic it can pursue with the continent, French says the US should look to the African skies – or to the un-mowed fields where new airports must be built, and engines serviced.
It makes sense. East Asia, in the throes of its own domestic air transportation boom is having to import pilots, planes, and parts from America. But French might find that even with the lowest of fares and sleekest of hubs, when Africa flies, it flies North-South.
"We want to go to Europe, to go shopping in Paris and taste the nightlife," Senegalese Economist Adama Gaye told me over expresso in a French-style diner in Dakar, today. "It's historical. It's in our DNA."