Kagame made the revelation at the opening of the 33rd Plenary session of the African Civil Aviation Commission taking place in Kigali, Rwanda.
The three-day meeting brought together different participants including the President of the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), Gabriel Lesa, President of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Salvatore Sciacchitano and other delegates from the aviation sector.
AFCAC is a Specialized Agency of the African Union mandated to oversee matters related to aviation across Africa.
The aviation is among sectors seriously affected by COVID-19 pandemic where passenger revenue losses were estimated at US$10.2 billion in 2020.
The loss is projected to reach US$8.2 billion this year while the number of passengers declined by 67.7% from 95 million to 34.7 million in 2020.
Rwanda’s Minister of Infrastructure. Amb. Claver Gatete has said that Africa has booming tourism industry that needs support of the aviation sector.
He emphasized the situation requires significant support to the airline industry by Governments. The Minister pointed out Rwanda’s case where the country supported air transport recovery through the economic recovery fund and introduced COVID-19 screening robots at the airport to minimize physical contacts among others.
Amb. Gatete stressed the need to build infrastructures to enhance resilience to other COVID-19 variants and future pandemics.
President Kagame said that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the aviation sector globally and continues to affect everyone.
He reminisced on the new COVID-19 variant dubbed Omicron noting that it has created confusion everywhere.
“One simple example is a recent variant of COVID-19, Omicron variant and the confusion it has really brought everywhere, including in the air transport. I am saying this because you have seen that South Africa was generous in sharing information of what they had just discovered of this variant. […] Of course, there is a reaction towards that. Airlines started suspending flights to the southern Africa. Out of our continent, passengers originating from there going towards different parts of the world were blocked,” Kagame said.
As the President highlighted, it was latter established that the variant had been detected out of the continent before.
On Tuesday, the Netherlands announced that it had detected the new Omicron variant eleven days ago evidencing that it emerged in Europe before South Africa.
Kagame stressed the need for better organization, better communication, and concerted effort to minimize effects of the pandemic and shed light on Rwanda’s decision to suspend flights to and from southern Africa.
Rwanda suspended flights to Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa, Harare in Zimbabwe and Lusaka in Zambia.
“When we learnt of this variant like any other country, we had to take immediate action. At least, we had to figure out what to do in response to that. That was already happening because of what actions, other people were taking,” he noted.
The Head of State revealed that RwandAir had to suspend flights to the southern African region of the continent.
“Even though, the information that everybody was operating on was that this variant was in southern Africa, we found it was somewhere else. In fact, I agree [with him]. I saw the President of South Africa, saying that the country was punished for being transparent and putting information out there of what they had discovered, but others who identified it had been quiet, and had discovered that before,” he said.
“In our case, Rwanda had to take measures internally, here in the country but naturally also to do with beyond our borders. And the simple reason was that for example the flights that come from, southern Africa, most of the passengers who come to Kigali don’t terminate their journey in Rwanda. The majority are going through to other destinations,” Kagame added.
The Head of State said that there could be huge losses, if RwandAir just went to southern Africa because it would be not bringing passengers given that they normally come through Rwanda to other destinations.
“We might be able to carry passengers to southern Africa, originating from here but on the way back, the flight would always be empty every time. So, it wouldn’t make economic sense. Probably, we would make a huge loss around that. One of the measures was to say; well, let us wait and see what happens across the world. Let us stop on flying to southern Africa,” he revealed.