Air crash highlights Africa’s industrialization plight

By Song Wei Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/13 20:03:40

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT

The crash of the Ethiopian Airlines plane that killed 157 on Sunday has triggered some pessimistic comments toward Ethiopian Airlines and Africa's aviation industry. Some even said that they would never risk their life to go to Africa. To a certain extent, this underlines the public's lack of understanding about Africa. 

In fact, Ethiopian Airlines is one of the best airlines in Africa, with a very good safety record and the newest aircraft fleet on the African continent. Many visitors to Africa have used the airline. Yet, the performance of Ethiopian Airlines cannot hide the weak position of developing countries in dealing with the aviation industry of developed countries.

While the cause of the crash remains unknown, people are looking to Boeing for an explanation. According to Ethiopian Airlines, the possibility of pilot error is extremely low as the captain of the ill-fated flight had logged over 8,000 hours of flight time, and the first officer had accumulated more than 200 hours. Both were experienced pilots. The plane involved in the crash is a Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, which has only been in commercial use since 2017. Nevertheless, this is the second crash involving the model. Just five months ago, a Boeing 737 Max 8, operated by Lion Air, crashed in Indonesia, killing 189. No matter whether or not the two fatal disasters had direct casual links according to the final investigation results, Boeing cannot completely shirk its responsibility.

In essence, high-tech companies from developed countries hold absolute control over technology in the international aviation market, while developing countries have no bargaining power due to their technological disadvantages. They are locked in a passive position over the use of their products. 

It is undeniable that the transportation infrastructure in many developing countries faces problems of weak maintenance and inadequate training of maintenance personnel. Western high-tech companies like Boeing generally ignore the characteristics and needs of developing country markets. By comparison, Chinese companies, based on their own development experience, noticed and have met the local needs. Over the past several years, China has not only supplied Modern Ark 60 and Y-12 aircraft to Africa, but has also brought training and management support to help local companies improve their capabilities and stabilize operations. Moreover, Chinese aviation companies have helped African countries to maintain infrastructure facilities.

The resale of old aircraft by developed countries to developing countries in Africa and the South Pacific has also led to potential safety risks. Although the aircraft involved in the fatal crash this time was not an old aircraft, the phenomenon of older aircraft being transferred to developing markets cannot be overlooked. The situation is quite serious in some South Pacific island countries, as I observed on a research trip to Tonga and Samoa. 

In order to prevent another tragedy, it is essential to support industrial development in Africa. The development experience of African countries has made them fully aware of Western countries' "suzerain manner" in politics, "imperialism" in economy and "hegemonism" in culture. As a result, they have gradually lowered their expectations for external support from the West and began to actively explore the development path to indigenous industrialization. 

In 2015, the African Union formulated and released its Agenda 2063, declaring that African countries can transform economies, promote economic growth and realize industrialization through beneficiation from Africa's natural resources and value addition, and that macro policies formulated by governments "must be conducive to economic growth, job creation, investment expansion and industrialization." 

During the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, African countries proposed to match Agenda 2063 with the Belt and Road Initiative. Undoubtedly, China-Africa development cooperation has created an unprecedented opportunity for the industrialization and modernization of African countries. 

Ethiopia is one of the node countries of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Under the Belt and Road Initiative, Ethiopian Airlines plays an important role in China-Ethiopia economic and trade cooperation. 

In this sense, we should boost confidence in Ethiopian Airlines, continue to promote cooperation between China and Africa in connectivity, and enhance personnel and capital exchanges, so as to contribute to the development of indigenous industrialization in Africa.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce.


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