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Africa's Main Airline in Danger of Closure

Air Afrique, once one of Africa's main airlines, could soon go out of business. But there is and effort to create a new, more viable company. Decisions on the bankrupt airline's future have been made at a meeting in Ivory Coast.

While many airlines have suffered a decline in revenue since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, company employees blame mismanagement and corruption for Air Afrique's problems.

When Air Afrique was founded 40 years ago, in the wake of the independence of a number of former French colonies, it was symbolic of an African renaissance.

It was also a sign of strength through unity, since many small African countries couldn't afford their own national airline.

But management issues, often linked to the problem of being owned by 11 states, have led to Air Afrique's downfall. Once one of Africa's main carriers, the airline now operates just one plane.

The countries meeting in Abidjan on Friday said they were optimistic that a new company, to be called Nouvelle Air Afrique, would take off in the near future, with a share capital of about $50 million.

However, it is not yet clear where this investment money will come from.

African governments are to reduce their percentage holding from 68 percent to 22 percent, partly because they don't have the cash.

Air France has offered to become a strategic partner, buying a 35 percent stake in the company, in exchange for putting up some of the money and helping pay off some of its debt.

But according to Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, Air France has insisted that it has a monopoly on certain intercontinental routes. Air France said this would be for only a limited time, in exchange for paying off part of the debt.

The African governments have said they don't accept this condition, and that they still have time to find another strategic partner for the new Air Afrique.

Before this can get off the ground, they need to decide who will pay off the old Air Afrique's $460 million debt, and what will happen to more than 4,000 staff of the soon-to-be-liquidated company.