Sky-high Expectations: how Politics, Crisis and Knowledge Transfer Shaped the Multinational Airline Air Afrique 1961-1990

Dr. Marie Huber, Berlin (Principal Investigator)

The aim of this project is to write a corporate history of the Air Afrique airline company, with the intention of gaining insight into the relevance of economic cultures and expectations (including those relating to “development”) for post-colonial state and nation-building processes in francophone West Africa between 1960 and 1990. It is linked to three key themes in the historiography of Africa and beyond: the renewed interest in the role of business in the context of decolonisation, state building and nationalism; the debates on economic cultures and the history of development; and the overall field of aviation history, which until now has only paid scant attention to the African continent.


Upon becoming independent nations from 1961 on, most of the francophone West-African countries followed a multinational approach consisting in part of a Pan-African nationalism and in part of the “Françafrique” approach, grouping the former French colonies into a regional union that remained economically and politically dependent on France. The multinational airline Air Afrique, formed by eleven West African states under French guidance, is one of the most prominent examples of this interplay of interests. Historians of Africa and of development alike have shown more and more interest in the workings and effects of the decades after 1960, but existing works tend to privilege political and social over economic aspects of postcolonial African history, which is why detailed case studies of specific companies or sectors are hard to come by. Economic studies of African companies and aviation industry, on the other hand, have not managed to properly contextualise their findings.  This project will link all of these points of interest, and in addition inform theories of expectation building by bringing in a much needed diversification with a case study of a multinational company, located in Africa.


Drawing on theoretical approaches which include sociological and anthropological concepts for the analysis of economic expectations, this study has three principal aims: First, to identify the actual political and economic agents at work in the management of Air Afrique and the main influences  on their expectations and decision-making; second, to compare the way in which these different actors formed their economic expectations and made their decisions; and, third, to connect economic expectations in a private corporation to political dynamics as well as historical events and developments.
This study will draw on a variety of primary sources from both public and private archives in France, Côte d’Ivoire, and Senegal among other countries, while also making use of oral history given that many of Air Afrique’s employees and decision-makers are still with us today.