His name is synonymous with African air transport but, after a decade as secretary general of the African Airlines Association, Christian Folly-Kossi is preparing to step down in November. After 10 years in the role has he achieved all he set out to do?
When Christian Folly-Kossi was elected as AFRAA secretary general at the body's 31st annual general assembly in Sudan, little did he realise he would still hold the position 10 years later.
"The secretary general serves for a term of five years, renewable only once," says Folly-Kossi. "My tenure at AFRAA will come to its normal conclusion by the end of the current year. The 41st annual general assembly in Maputo, Mozambique will elect a new secretary general as my replacement."
The AFRAA veteran says some "good friends and flatters" volunteered to lobby for a third term, a generous offer which Folly-Kossi ultimately declined. "I sincerely consider that Africans should also make a point of respecting their constitutions and clear the stage whenever the term of the performance comes to an end."
He is also aware that holding on to the top job could inconvenience other members, leading to a loss of respect. And, from a personal perspective, Folly-Kossi is keen to step down before hitting retirement age to increase his exposure to new opportunities. And this strategy appears to be paying off.
"Some governments particularly in west and central Africa are showing great interest in my experience and consider that I can further serve in some economic restructuring programmes, particularly in the industry. I will start talking to them after handing over at AFRAA," he says.
Before becoming AFRAA secretary general Folly-Kossi spent 21 years with pan-African carrier Air Afrique, where he held various management positions, ultimately becoming special advisor to the executive chairman. He has also advised various African governments.
Folly-Kossi cites influential 20th century African unity advocate Kwame Nkrumah as one of his role models. "My generation in west Africa inherited Nkrumah's ideology," he explains. "This dream which lived up with me over the years was highly instrumental in my readiness and eagerness to take on [the secretary general's] role."
When Folly-Kossi came onboard, AFRAA was producing "excellent policy papers and recommendations for African states" but he says the body was "poorly known" particularly in French speaking African countries.
"Nobody was then bringing them to the attention of the decision makers. I decided to give a face and a voice to AFRAA. I undertook to create new credentials for the organisation, elevating it to the rank of a political lobbying force to reckon with, able to effectively sensitise the highest international and national decision makers on the major concerns of our industry."
As a result, AFRAA now holds a high profile with African heads of state and key bodies such as the African Union, World Bank, ICAO and IATA. "Air transport development is now on the agenda of the continent. African and international media houses are always looking for the position of AFRAA," he says. "The image of the organisation has positively changed. I'm confident this change will strongly contribute to creating a conducive environment for the restructuring and progress of the industry in Africa."
As always, unfinished business remains. Folly-Kossi says his greatest disappointment is the continued dominance of African skies by foreign carriers, and he stresses this is likely to worsen as "no decisive action" is being taken to help African carriers compete more effectively. But he is glad to see leading African carriers teaming with smaller sister airlines, such as Kenya Airways and Precision Air, Ethiopian Airlines and ASKY, as well as South African Airways and Air CEMAC. "Politically, African Union needs to be more empowered and determined to engage in bloc-to-bloc negotiations with third parties to defend and protect the interests of African airlines."
The economic crisis and consolidation are condensing the number of African airlines, shrinking AFRAA's revenue base. "The first assignment of my successor will be to enlarge this membership by enrolling more industry partners," says Folly-Kossi. The new recruit will also have to keep key stakeholders "on their toes", relentlessly pushing forward issues such as African liberalisation, bloc-to-bloc negotiations and safety standards.
As his term draws to a close, Folly-Kossi remains enthusiastic about AFRAA's potential. "The job is still challenging and exciting. AFRAA is playing in political and economical senior leagues, both in Africa and worldwide. The exposure is great. The industry is fast-changing. This requires permanent reflection, new strategy and constant adaptation. I am confident that any action-oriented person who is willing to serve Africa will enjoy the job."