What if the story of Cameroon airlines was retold ?

Published: Sunday, 28 November 2010 17:59

Created following the withdrawal of Cameroon from the multinational company Air Afrique, Cameroon Airlines operated for more than 35 years.
From Cameroon's accession to independence in 1960 until 1971, there was no national air transport company. First operated by French airlines (Air France, UAT and UTA), the air traffic rights of Cameroon were taken over in 1961 by the multinational company Air Afrique when the Treaty establishing it was signed in Yaounde.


As a Signatory to this treaty, like ten other French-speaking African countries, members of the African and Malagasy Union, Cameroon for almost ten years continued honouring its obligations. The multinational company Air Afrique during this decade assured air transport in Cameroon. There was also Air Cameroon which notably served the secondary airfields. Air Afrique provided services which were appreciated in diverse ways and on January 22, 1971, the government of Cameroon decided to withdraw from the Treaty of Yaounde signed in 1961. The statement from the Presidency of the Federal Republic announcing the decision at the same time indicated the plans of the government to create a national air transport company.

An irrevocable decision!

On the 2nd of February 1971, the Minister of Transport, Vincent Efon received the press to explain the withdrawal of Cameroon from Air Afrique. Despite these explanations, many advances were made towards Cameroonian authorities to convince them to reverse their decision.

A mini summit of the presidents of Niger, Chad and a special representative of the Senegalese head of state met with President Ahidjo in March 1971 in Garoua. At the announcement of the summit, of Cameroon foreign policy believed that the personalities meeting with President Ahidjo would eventually convince him of the need not to withdraw Cameroon from Air Afrique. But they underestimated Cameroon’s number one citizen, who by his strong personality and temperament of a winner was not a man to reverse a decision, especially when he had the firm conviction that this served the interests of Cameroon and Cameroonians. Thus, in an exclusive interview with Radio Garoua, President Ahidjo confirmed «irrevocable «nature ofthe decision of the Cameroonian government to withdraw from Air Afrique. Meanwhile, Cameroonian experts were finalizing studies related to the creation of the national airline. A bill was tabled before the bureau of the Federal National Assembly at its budgetary session in May 1971.

This text, which had to authorise the legal establishment of Cameroon Airlines, was reviewed and approved in plenary. The law was promulgated on June 4, 1971 by the President of the Federal Republic, in accordance with the Constitution of lst September 1961. Thereafter, events were to move faster than anticipated, and on July 26, 1971, the constituent General assembly of its Shareholders met in Yaounde. This assembly which grouped Cameroon government representatives and those of the French flag carrier airline, Air France, decided to the capital of Cameroon Airlines at 1 billion 500 million CFA francs, divided into 30 000 shares of 50 000 francs CFA each. Cameroon Airlines was born.

And the Cameroonian government would spare no expense. Especially regarding buildings that were to house the headquarters of the said company. The acquisition and furnishing of the building cost 220 million CFA francs and it was Germaine Ahidjo herself, Wife of the head of state, who presided over the inaugural ceremony. The meeting of the General Assembly was followed by the first board meeting made of 13 members, 9 of which were Cameroonians. During this meeting, Amadou Mouliom Njifenjou, and Jean Alexandre were elected chairman and CEO and Deputy CEO respectively of Cameroon Airlines. The meetings that follow will set November 1, 1971 as date for the inaugural flight of Cameroon Airlines and worked to resolve all issues relating to the take off of the company ... Meanwhile, Air Africa, aware of having to give up traffic rights that had been transferred to it by Cameroon, began its own restructuring by dismissing its Cameroonian personnel: commercial, financial, administrative and technical. Cameroon Airlines had to take over all of these personnel and put these ready-made aviation professionals into valuable use. Thus, on 1st November 1971, the first flight and the start of the Cameroon Air transport company. Initially the mission assigned to it was to operate Cameroon’s international air traffic rights, and ensure air transportation of passengers, cargo and mail.

A prestigious fleet
Camair’s fleet at the start of its operations consisted of the following aircrafts: 1 Boeing 707, 1 Boeing 737 and 3 DC- 4. But Camair decided to acquire brand new aircrafts to satisfy its increasing number of customers, despite stiff competition from other operators. On 30 January 1974, an entirely Cameroonian crew were in charge of flying the Boeing 737 with Angounou as captain and Timoh as co-pilot. This event reassured those laymen who believed that flying an airplane was reserved only for holders of "white magic." From birth, many speculated the company would not last up to 6months but not only did the airline operate for 35years uninterrupted, but got the merit for perfectly managing hostilities with Air Afrique, its traditional rival then. By way of retaliation, it had to intelligently manipulate its weapon of reciprocity only in Douala, responding to insidious attacks, arbitrary acts of revenge which Air Afrique momentarily made her go through in eight African capitals of its member states which Camair served. The climate of tension was at its peak, but remained hushed and was marked by courtesy. Finally, by the end of the 70’s and throughout the 80s! Camairtook the upper hand! She became the airline of choice for all travellers along  the coastal haul mainly because of a high reputation of regularity, punctuality with an exemplary and impeccable safety record .

In terms of quality of its service, it is worthwhile mentioning that two years after the entry into service of its Boeing 747- Combi, Camair was nominated in the prestigious IATA ranking coming out 6th in the world in June 1983, better than its godfather and mentor air France, then ranked 18th.
After experiencing a good period and being the undisputed leader in the sub-region of Central Africa and even West Africa, Cameroon Airline since the early 1990s started declining. Within the framework of the rehabilitation of the transport sector, the Cameroon government agreed through performance contracts of August 1990 and July 1992established the objectives of efficiency, productivity and profitability for Cameroon Airlines. The financial effort from the State which had to guarantee the success of these contracts unfortunately did not follow.

This is why the Cameroonian government accepted, through the recommendation of the World Bank, and given the poor financial shortfall of approximately $94 million, accepted to undertake a legal and financial restructuring of the company during a period of two years, which would lead to the privatization of Camair. The goal which was to save Camair from the sudden end experienced by the defunct Metropolitan Transport Corporation of Cameroon (SOTUC).

This process has been underway for almost 14 years now and undeniably is experiencing blockages. Does it mean it has failed so far? Hello! The reasons to hope for a definite exit from the doldrums for Camair even more tangible. The Cameroonian government is indeed negotiating the last bend in the privatization process of Cameroon airlines. But today it is clear that after thirty five years of existence, and despite all the turbulence zones crossed, Cameroon Airlines is and remains for Cameroonian public opinion one of the attributes of national sovereignty.

Mark Olivier Mamiah
Communication unit; CCAA
Headquarters: P.O. Box. 6998 Yaounde– Cameroon
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