Sky-high expectations: how politics, crisis and knowledge transfer shaped the multinational airline Air Afrique 1961-1990

Marie Huber M.A., Berlin (Principal Investigator)


This project aims 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 with three key themes in the historiography relating to Africa and beyond: the renewed interest in the role of business in the historiography on decolonisation, state building and nationalism; the debates around economic cultures and the history of development; and the overall field of aviation history, which has until now paid only scant attention to Africa.

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 questions alike have shown renewed interest in the workings and effects of the decades after 1960, but existing works focus on political and social aspects and fail to link it to an economic history with detailed case studies of specific companies or sectors. Economic studies of African companies and the aviation industry, on the other hand, have not managed to contextualise their findings historically.  This project will serve as a connecting point for all these interests, 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 from theoretical approaches which include sociological and anthropological concepts for the analysis of economic expectations, this study has three principal aims: (1) To identify the actual political and economic agents at work in the management of Air Afrique and the main influences which had actual impacts on their expectations and decision-making, (2) to compare how these specific different political and economic agents formed their economic expectations and (3) to connect economic expectations in a private corporation to political dynamics as well as historical events and developments.
The result will be a source-based historiography, using documents from French and African public and private archives, regarding the built-up and the management of Air Afrique between 1960 and 1990, and interviews with former government and airline employees.