"Civil aviation arrives in Cameroon in 1934"

Published: Monday, 29 November 2010 18:04


Mr. NJAMKEPO was the Director of Civil Aviation at the time civil aviation was instituted in Cameroon.

How did Civil Aviation start in our country?

We have been speaking of civil aviation in Cameroon since 1932. But, things will really materialize in 1934 with a project for the construction of airport infrastructures in Douala, Garoua and Yaoundé.


But it must be said that in 1934, the aviation activity was limited to a few touristic stops in Douala and the passage of large aircraft through Garoua serving the new commercial link between Algeria and the Congo. It is also in 1934 that the aero club of Douala will be created. This structure benefitted from grants received all over the territory and the Chamber of Commerce of Douala, in anticipation of its impact on economic development. The Aero club will quickly evolve and will have 80 members in 1936 including dozens of pilots based in Yaounde and Douala.

Aviation Regulation started in Cameroon in 1936. Various texts were promulgated, amongst which was the International Convention of 23 October 1919 on the regulation of Air Navigation. In 1947, Cameroon gets connected to Africa, Equatorial, Francophone West Africa, North Africa and France, by aircraft from Air France which provided regular service. There were four aircraft from Cameroon to connect Bangui, Brazzaville, Pointe Noire, the coast to Dakar with correspondence in Lagos and Dakar to Paris. Conversely, five aircraft arrived in Cameroon each week. The number of aircraft landing in Douala increased from 450 in 1947 to 900 by late 1949. From 1950, the Organization of Air Transport and Cameroon Airports were reporting to the civil aviation office directly under the French Ministry of Public Works and transportation. Cameroon is then connected to France and the French Overseas Territories by DC type aircraft belonging to Air France. At that time, we had four flights a week between Paris and Douala.

It should be noted at that time there was a local company called "Air Cameroon" which together with Air France served the domestic market of Cameroon. Other airlines like Ardic and Avian-Service carried out Charter flights. Civil aviation will continue to grow and the Civil Aviation Directorate of Cameroon will be created by the Decree of 20 December 1959.

Initially, there was a Directorate General of Civil Aviation in Central Africa, with headquarters in Brazzaville. Why did Cameroon decide to create its own Civil Aviation Authority ?

It was in 1956 that was created in Cameroon, a state service in charge of Civil Aeronautics attached to the French Ministry of Economy and Planning. This separation of Cameroon from the Directorate General of the AEF of Civil Aviation was basically due to the status of Cameroon at that time which had been placed under French mandate by the United Nations, with all the benefits that entailed, including the aspiration to status of Independent State...

As the first Director of Cameroon Civil Aviation, you definitely had to put in place a regulatory framework for civil aviation activities in our country ?

Cameroon having gained independence in January 1960 became a member of the Chicago Convention, signed December 7, 1944, creating International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Therefore, our country had a duty to ensure that national legislation conforms as much as possible to the standards and recommended practices set by ICAO with regards to aircrafts registered in Cameroon and foreign aircrafts entering or leaving the Cameroonian territory. Thus, the Law No. 63 / LF / 35 of 5 November 1963 on the Civil Aviation Code in Cameroon, was perfectly in line with the Chicago Convention. This law which today has undergone  amendments because of advancements in equipment , by the Minister charge of Transport, through the Federal Directorate of Civil Aviation (DACF), in charge of Safety of Air Navigation over the federal territory. following to Article 2 of Decree No. 64 / DF / 314 of 74 July 1964 on the organization of DACF, the latter was entrusted with studying, promoting, regulating and controlling all activities that, can serve towards the development of commercial or industrial civil aviation.

How was the Pan African Company Air Afrique established ?
Air Afrique was born out of the Treaty of Yaounde signed between eleven states, on 28 March 1961, with Cameroon as the depositary. Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo (Brazzaville), Ivory Coast, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Benin, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad. (Togo which became the twelfth member state joined to the Treaty of Yaounde later, in 1964). The initial share capital was One billion, five hundred million CFA francs, distributed among the 12 states at a share rate of 6% per member state, totalling 72%. The remaining 28% were granted to SODETRAF (Society for the Development of Air Transport in Africa), French company which represented the interests of Air France and UTA. Each state was represented in the Board of directors by two members, in accordance with Article 3 of the bylaws, and SODETRAF by nine members.

The company had a structure having the attributes of a registered office in the capital of each participating Member State involved there. The headquarters was designated to be Abidjan (Republic of Ivory Coast). El Hadj Moussa Yaya, at the time Vice President of the National Assembly and myself (Gilles Njamkepo, Editor's note), Director of Federal Aerospace, were appointed to represent Cameroon on the Board. Air Afrique was established to ensure the operation of international air rights of each Member State. However, pursuant to paragraph 2 of Article 3 of the Treaty of Yaounde, each state could entrust the operation of its domestic routes to Air Afrique. This is what Cameroon did as soon as Air Afrique was launched. The presence of Air Afrique therefore brought in the following changes: each Member State had to designate the multinational company (Air Afrique) to operate its international air rights, which meant that French companies who till then, held the monopoly of international exploitation in these countries could now claim only 50% in each of these states, with the absolute prohibition of making sabotage between two or more of those States, or between them and third parties.

Facing stiff competition from French Aviation companies, did Air Afrique have all chances of succeeding?
Air Afrique had eve thing to succeed, given the turmoil created by its birth, especially within French air transport companies. She was entitled to 50% of international traffic in each Member State. In addition to that, the aviation agreements which the Member States signed with third countries, provided that it was forbidden for non-Member companies to operate 3rd and 4th freedom traffic rights with Member States. However, at the beginning Air Afrique was young, facing mature companies like Air France and UTA which had a lot of experience and knew how to circumvent the provisions of the agreements to divert traffic in their favour. Moreover, SODETRAF, despite the importance of its shares (28%) did not facilitate the task for Air Afrique by its quality in the operation of the reciprocal air rights. Despite these obstacles, altogether predictable, Air Afrique was likely to succeed. But other negative factors further worsened its situation: the global economic crisis had a major part in the failure of Air Afrique; the dubious management by its leaders, the policies imposed by some Member States, non-payment of debts contracted by the State towards the multinational company and so on, are all obstacles which crossed its paths till the decision to 'to file for bankruptcy. It was a shame, because the ideas which motivated the Heads of States towards the creation of Air Afrique were very noble. Is it not said that union is strength?

If Air Afrique had every chance to succeed, why did Cameroon decide to withdraw from the multinational company in order to create its own airline?

Cameroon left Air Afrique to set up its own air transport company. Special note should be taken that within the 12 member states, Cameroon alone held 25% of traffic. This meant more than a quarter of the traffic, and therefore revenue generated by the company. Cameroon knew this from the beginning, but that is not the main reason why Cameroon decided to withdraw from Air Afrique. Its main reason was the malfunctioning of this prodigious instrument, which throughout its ten years of operation, had deviated from the path set by the Treaty of Yaounde. Indeed, on the first Board of Directors meeting on 26 and 27 June 1961, a president was elected in the person of Cheik Fall, one of Senegal's directors, according to the status and the Laws, to replace SODETRAF CEO who resigned after the meeting. Cheik Fall, to satisfy his egocentric desires and through dubious means seized the opportunity to assume the title of Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

From then on, he managed the company alone, in defiance of the Board and the committee of ministers of which he has assumed the Permanent Secretary functions, combined with his CEO duties. Therefore he received orders from no one. During the meetings of the supervisory committee of ministers which he was the Permanent Secretary, he caused all decisions to be taken at his bidding. He even went as far as comparing himself to the Heads of State of member nations to whom he spoke of as equals. Faced with such an intolerable situation, the heads of state during a summit meeting in Yaoundé on 1 and 2 January 1970, decided to appoint an ad hoc committee of seven ministers to discuss the situation and propose necessary changes to make Air Africa compatible with the initial objectives of Heads of State of member countries. This ad hoc committee composed of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Gabon, Niger and Senegal met on l and 2 April 1970 and had identified a number of malfunctioning within Air Afrique, which were drafted into resolutions and sent to heads of state of member nations. One of this resolution being that the committee of Ministers provided under part II of the Treaty of Yaounde, instead of being the supervisory and control organ of the multinational company, had fallen under the authority of the chairman and CEO who managed to combine his functions of chairman and CEO with those of the Permanent Secretariat of the Trusteeship Committee of Ministers and that the board had become a rubber stamp.

Moreover, the ad hoc committee had proposed to separate the functions of Chairman of the Board of Directors from those of Chief Executive Officer. So, Cheik Fall found himself downgraded only as Chairman of the Board. It is from this point that Cheik Fall ran a false blackmailing campaign sharing information in which Cameroon had insisted on separating the functions of Chairman of the Board from those of the CEO. While the Chairman of the board and CEO formula is valid for some multinational or international business companies where the Chairman and CEO have the overriding power as a result of the majority of shares he holds (50%) within the company, it did not seem desirable for a multinational company like Air Afrique, where all member states had equal shares, hence the equality of all directors on the board.

By changing in 1963, Article 21 of the bylaws, which made Cheik Fall the CEO, the Heads of States relied on his good faith. Who would have thought a few years later we would be witnesses to such a tense situation? It may not be superfluous, for a proper understanding of the situation created by this in Cameroon, recalling that in 1969, on the decision of the Head of State, we had carried out studies for the creation of an air transport company upholding national interest with the participation of Air Afrique in order to comply with Article 3 of the Treaty of Yaounde. This study had already been forwarded to the Head of State for a final decision, and we were in advanced talks with Air Afrique in order to determine the conditions of its participation, when in 1970, the CEO of Air Afrique peddled such defamatory information about Cameroon. As soon as these comments got to the hearing of the President of the Republic, he gave us new instructions aimed at extending this study to international aviation. It is in this way that Cameroon left Air Afrique to create its own national airline company: "Cameroon Airlines".

How was Camair established?
We have just seen how Cameroon had to leave Air Afrique and create its own national airline Cameroon Airlines, intended to operate international air rights and serve domestic routes. We may recall that domestic routes were previously operated in addition to Air Afrique by two other Cameroonian companies: Air Cameroon and Cameroon Air Transport. These two companies had filed for bankruptcy. Therefore, Cameroon had to act quickly to establish the new company, which was done, and the constitutive General assembly of Cameroon Airlines was held in Yaoundé on 26 July 1971 followed by the meeting of the Board of directors which designated Mouliom Njifendjou as CEO of Camair.

How do you justify the great attachment of Cameroonians to Camair?
It was with great joy that Cameroonians welcomed the news of creation of Camair. They were stuck to her like a mother to her child. With the Entry into Service of the four-engine Boeing 747 (combi), the explosion of joy was even more vivid. Therefore, whenever there was an attempt to sell the combi, all Cameroonians rose up against it. Unfortunately, the accident of this aircraft in Paris region in France ended the veneration Cameroonians had dedicated to their beloved child.

What is your analysis of the end of Camair?
Camair had had its days of glory. For over 30 years, she proudly. Cameroonians, without exception, were proud. She also went through difficult times, as she had to face competition from foreign companies authorized to serve Cameroon, in the same way as its predecessor Air Afrique. Just like for the multinational company, Camair was facing many difficulties. Our national airline could not escape the global economic crisis which hit civil aviation, despite the support which the state continued to provide for her survival.

Can you say something about the ASECNA Convention / State of Cameroon which was signed in Saint-Louis in Senegal?
On December 12, 1959, at Saint-Louis in Senegal, the French community held its sixth executive. The Prime Minister of the French Republic and 12 heads of states signed an agreement by which they decided to establish a public institution with the legal personality and financial autonomy to provide services ensuring the safety and regulation of aircraft flights in the territories of the twelve African countries of the community (excluding the French territory).
By their status as protectorates, Cameroon and Togo were not part of the French community. Moreover, Cameroon will gain independence in 19 days and the Togo some time later. The organization named Agency for the Safety of Air Navigation in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) was originally intended to take over the responsibilities which were previously handled by France, under the Chicago Convention civil aviation, in Article 4, on International Civil Aviation, signed on 7 December 1944. Cameroon was invited to become a member of ASECNA.

This membership was only possible after a number of amendments to the convention in St. Louis, by deleting every provision relating to the French community, and the responsibility of the French Republic. We should remember that when Cameroon was invited, none of the twelve signatories of the agreement was already independent. That is why in the original agreement; the responsibility of the French Republic was so engaged. France had wanted to retain its former colonies in Africa, but the situation had changed in the meantime and the colonial States sought and obtained their independence one after the other.

Have you written down documents to share the rich experience you have of civil aviation?
I think of it, but I have not yet officially done it. I hope I live long enough to enable the future generation benefit from my experience.

Thank you for your time.
I am the one to thank you.