African Airlines are not commonly associated with success, rather they recall instances of bad management, security concerns, and outdated machinery. This paper focuses on the success of two airlines during the first two postcolonial decades in Africa. During this time, the new national airlines of African states were important symbols of sovereignty, as well as providing crucial mobility for politicians and experts of all kinds. Addressing a gap in the literature on aviation in Africa on the one hand, and the research on state-owned enterprises on the other, the paper takes a closer look at expectation formation and management decisions regarding fleet modernisation and maintenance, as well as Africanisation politics in both enterprises. Contrary to blanket statements that refer to ideological goals as a reason for the failure of African state-owned enterprise, the political goal of independence made Africanisation of staff and the acquisition of company-owned equipment and facilities a priority. Using archival sources, company publications, and observations of contemporaries, it can be shown that through taking advantage of entangled interests of governments and the aviation industry, the two African airlines managed to break into the global air transport market at the beginning of the 1960s and stayed competitive for many years.
This paper is the first publication outcome in the DFG-funded research project «Sky-high expectations» on the history of aviation in postcolonial Africa. I want to thank first and foremost Cisse Chikouna, for hosting me at the Université Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan, and Koffi Loukou Bernard for generously providing all his research material on Air Afrique to me. The students of the research seminar «Independence in the Air», led by Astrid McDonald at the HU Berlin in the Summer of 2020, especially Immo Steckel, Lennart O. Carls and Leon Ludloff, deserve a special mention for their astute analysis of some sources on EAL I provided for the seminar. Further thanks go to the members of the «DFG Priority Programme 1859 – Experience & Expectation: Historical Foundations of Economic Behaviour», Alexander Keese, Mariusz Lukasiewicz, Lukas Jung, Baz Lecocq, and Dmitri van den Bersselaar for their support and feedback at various stages of the project.
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