First-Ever African History Seminar Discusses Success and Failure of Air Afrique

In the first Academic Research Seminar related to African history, Serge Ouitona, a historian and Associate of Research at the African School of Economics (ASE), presented a paper on “Air Afrique (1961-2002): Histoire d’un succès et d’un échec.”  He showed that the emergence of the Air Afrique company was the result of genuine cooperation between African leaders but its decline also resulted from the influence of politics and bad governance.

In fact, Air Afrique experienced success between 1961 and 1979 because of rigorous management and the political support of the eleven leaders from Central and West Africa who initiated the company. Airline traffic rose from 277,662 passengers and 14,868 goods transported in 1936 to 597,645 passengers and 47,880 goods transported in 1979. However, from 1979 to 1988 the company experienced difficulties due to rivalries between countries over management positions, which ultimately drove Cameroon and Gabon to leave.

From the resignation of Cheikh Fall, who was the first President and General Director, to the heavy accumulated losses aggravated by the international financial crisis, Air Afrique was characterized by bad commercial decisions and investments, demotivated personnel, incompetence, government payouts to the company, and an excess of free tickets. Thus, in 1989 leadership of transferred to Yves Roland-Billecart, a French specialist who presented good performance in the first four years but accumulated unprecedented heavy losses in the following years. Although the replacement of Billecart with Sir Harry Tirvengadum seemed promising, the company was bankrupt and many African leaders had already lost interest in it. Finally, Air Afrique was liquidated in 2001 with 232 billion XOF of debt, resulting in 4,200 lost jobs and the handicapping of many African businesses. Air Afrique thus demonstrates how a self-destructive colonial mentality—as manifested by the company’s recourse to France—can undermine a successful collaborative initiative. Mr. Ouitona’s seminar concluded that the current situation is the result of Africans’ own choices, whether good or bad.