When Emirati budget airline Flydubai began operating flights to Somaliland recently, many wondered why the company chose to add the unknown country to its growing African routes. But barely two months after the four times a week flight to Somaliland started, has it proven to be a good business decision.
“Flights to Somaliland which we operate four times a week have been well received and we are seeing demand for these flights,” said Kareem Mahjoub, a company spokesperson.
Somaliland has been an autonomous region of Somalia for more than 20 years, but its self-proclaimed independence is yet to be recognized by any country or international organisation. It is internationally recognised as part of greater Somalia where terrorist group Al Shabaab is based, the last place on the mind of most businesses. Regardless of this, Flydubai became the first carrier to ply the Dubai-Hargeisa route.
With the success in Somaliland, a route widely believed to be less travelled, Flydubai is set to launch direct flights between Dubai and Eritrea’s capital Asmara starting from October 25. The flights to also be operated four times a week will mark the start of the first direct link between Eritrea and the UAE in line with the Government of Dubai’s vision, by creating trade and tourism flows in previously underserved markets.
Eritrea is not like Somaliland, it is an internationally recognized autonomous country but according to the World Bank, it is the worst place to do business in the world. The country located in the Horn of Africa ranks 189th out of the 189 countries on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business list. But it isn’t just business that is hard to do in Eritrea, the country has a grueling record of human rights violation. Widely criticized over alleged arbitrary arrest and detentions, freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association are limited in Eritrea. Those who practice “unregistered” religions, try to flee the nation, or escape the mandatory military duty are reportedly arrested and put into prison. The Eritrean government had often denied the claims.
Although tension between Eritrea and its neighbours have left the country isolated and UN sanctions have had a negative impact on the overall investment and business environment, the economy of Eritrea has experienced considerable growth in recent years. African Development Bank (AfDB) in a recent report projects Eritrea’s real GDP growth to continue increasing from 2.0 percent in 2014 to 2.1 percent in 2015. This is mainly due to increasing investments in the mining sector.
While Eritrea’s human rights record, as alleged, is condemnable, state-owned flydubai never stops seeing business opportunity in any situation. Eritrea is rich in human and mineral resources such as copper, gold, iron ore, nickel, silica, sulphur, marble, granite and potash. Development of these resources plus the right policies will significantly increase the need for travel between Dubai, the business hub of Middle East and Eritrea, a potential business hub in the Horn of Africa.
Flydubai CEO, Ghaith Al Ghaith said of the launch: “Adding to our recent operations to Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Somaliland, we are delighted to add a direct link between the UAE and another emerging market with great potential for more growth”.
Al Ghaith said that the airline was keen to reflect the UAE’s efforts to support emerging markets, particularly in East Africa.
Sudhir Sreedharan, Flydubai’s Senior Vice President Commercial (GCC, Subcontinent, Africa) also noted that “flydubai will be the first UAE carrier to connect Dubai with Asmara as trade and tourism continue to rise between the UAE, Africa and the rest of the world.”
Many international companies have their MEA office in Dubai. With China, South Korea, Italy and Germany believed to be aggressively pursuing market opportunity in Eritrea, more travel is expected in the coming years.
There are also thousands of Eritreans living in the UAE. Sreedharan said “Additionally flights to Asmara will provide the Eritrean diaspora with greater opportunity to visit their families and friends in their home country.”