MAF establishes new programme in Guinea, West Africa

Published: 5 May 2021

Everyday life in Guinea

Following three years of extensive research, MAF is setting up its latest operation in Guinea. An in-depth study has revealed that the presence of a consistent, sustainable domestic airline will greatly enhance development and support the work of aid agencies and Christian ministry in the country…

Why Guinea?

Guinea is ranked 178 out of 189 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, which measures criteria such as life expectancy, levels of education and living standards. Widespread poverty is therefore high.

Life expectancy is 61 years of age and one in every 20 children will not survive their first birthday.

According to the World Health Organisation, there is barely one doctor for every 1,000 people.

A third of the population does not have access to clean water (source: UN Sustainable Development Goals).

According to the World Food Programme, 55% of the population live below the bread line. Nearly 100,000 children under five suffer from severe malnutrition and nationally, a quarter of the population does not have enough food to eat.

70% of the population are illiterate (source: Omundi Index).

Living conditions in rural Guinea

Fact-finding mission

Since 2018, MAF has undertaken three surveys in Guinea.

In the first instance, NGOs and missions completed a detailed questionnaire with the aim of assessing future opportunities for MAF to serve.

The response prompted an in-country survey which took place later in 2018. Interviews were carried out with NGOs, churches, missionaries and government bodies including Guinea’s Ministry of Transport, the Civil Aviation Authority and airport management officials.

Emil and Margrit Kundig who used to work for MAF in Liberia are now based in Conakry, Guinea

Another survey was carried out in February this year by MAF Chief Pilot - Emil Kundig and Finance Manager - Margrit Kundig. They visited missions and hospitals in the south including Mission Kissidougou, Mission Macenta, Hospital Nzérékoré, Hospital Beyla and Mission Gbenko.

Hospital Nzérékoré in southern Guinea

Representatives were invited to fill in a further questionnaire, which gleaned data about transportation needs.

Most NGOs are based in the capital, Conakry, with their associated projects located all over the country. Conakry is the only location which processes staff visas and work permits.

The overall study revealed that MAF could save these potential partners time and money and provide a faster and safer journey to their destination. Needing reliable and secure transport to facilitate projects upcountry was a recurring theme in the participants’ answers.

The capital city of Conakry by air

They also expressed a need to transport officials to visit their projects and return them to Conakry either on the same day or the following day.

Several respondents expressed their need for a domestic medevac service to and from remote locations.

This extensive research has shown that the people of Guinea will significantly benefit from a domestic MAF flight operation.

Bad roads and bad weather

A ‘road’ in northern Guinea

There are approximately 12 airfields around the county, but many airstrips are no longer in use. MAF inspected several for possible future use including Sambailo Airstrip in the north, Siguiri Airport in the west and Macenta Airstrip in the south.

MAF Finance Manager, Margrit Kundig, in front of Siguiri Airport in western Guinea

Guinea’s railway network is also no longer running - built during the French colonial period, it has fallen into disrepair since the country’s independence.

As a result of this severe lack of national transport, aid and development agencies and missionaries who are supporting the people of Guinea, are limited to ground transport only.

This means long distances on poor roads combined with some of the wettest weather in West Africa, makes travel across the country very challenging.

An overturned vehicle on a potholed road

According to the UN, only 5% of Guinea’s roads are paved and the quality varies. Roads are particularly inadequate in the east and in the north. Even the tarmacked roads are full of potholes, which significantly slows down vehicles.

Even a road journey between the capital, Conakry, on the west coast and Nzerekore in the south (approx. 830 km) can easily take two days. A similar driving distance between Kent and Glasgow in the UK would only take around 7.5 hours.

Furthermore, Guinea’s rainy season lasts from June to November when flash floods often render rural roads impassable for several days.

Given the harsh environment, MAF would need to operate an IFR-equipped (Instrument Flight Rules) Cessna 208B aircraft there, which has the capability of flying in poor weather conditions.

MAF Chief Pilot, Emil Kundig, inspects Macenta Airstrip in southern Guinea

How Ebola crippled a nation

The West African Ebola epidemic from 2013 to 2016 devastated Guinea and underlined the lack of healthcare in the country. An Ebola outbreak reoccurred again in Nzérékoré in February this year.

WHO health workers reportedly had difficulties reaching the area due to poor infrastructure and transport problems.

Religious landscape

A typical church located in southern Guinea near the Liberian border

According to the Joshua Project, 88% of the population are Muslim and 5% are Christian. The Fulani, Malinke and Susu people groups (branches of Islam) in Guinea are unfamiliar with the Gospel.

MAF will enable the Church of Guinea and wider mission organisations to reach the remotest areas, accessing 30 unreached people groups around the country, comprising of approximately eleven million people.

What’s next?

MAF is currently working with the Government of Guinea and aviation authorities to meet registration requirements and is in the process of obtaining all necessary permissions. Once granted, MAF’s Cessna 208B aircraft - previously deployed in Mongolia - will be made available for service.

Kissidougou Airstrip in southern Guinea will be redeveloped

Kissidougou Airstrip in southern Guinea will be the first airstrip to be redeveloped.

Aviation systems need to be set up and essential parts and tools need to be purchased.

Upcountry logistical support and fuel supplies need to be arranged.

Potential flight destinations such as a weekly shuttle service to the north, northwest, centre and the southeast and provision of a medevac service for communities and partners based in remote locations, need to be considered and planned for.

MAF needs to fill three full-time positions to implement and manage this new aviation operation.

Rainbow over Guinea’s capital, Conakry

‘We see a significant opportunity to bring help, hope and healing through aviation in Guinea. Join us in prayer as we lay the foundations for this new programme and make the necessary preparations to begin flying in this country.’ Dave Fyock, CEO of MAF International