- Mauritania's national airliner, which keeps struggling financially after its privatisation in 2000, could finally be seeing light at the end of the tunnel in its long search for a buyer. An Air Mauritanie press statement released last week announced "a majority capital participation acquisition by Morocco's Royal Air Maroc within short time."
The prolonged story of Air Mauritanie searching for a strategic partner seems to have come to an end, at least provisionally, as Royal Air Maroc (RAM) demands an examination period of between six months and a year before committing itself definitively.
Already six years ago, Air Mauritanie was ceded to a consortium of several airliners, headed by Air Afrique, in a privatisation effort, but never really emerged a private company. As the situation went from bad to worse, the government of Mauritania - although no longer a majority capital holder - dismissed the director imposed by Air Afrique after one year in charge, and named an ex-Minister, Didi Ould Biyé. His mission was to initiate a rehabilitation plan, basically composed of the sale of two ATR aircrafts and a staff reduction.
This however was not enough to solve Air Mauritanie's problems. The company kept writing red numbers due to a high indebtedness, unresolved tax payments, deficit operations of certain routes and an insufficient level of the management experience and knowledge of the aerial transport sector.
After his strong medicines failed to produce visible results for the airliner, Mr Ould Biyé in 2002 handed over his post to Moustapha Ould Hamoud, who immediately developed a new reorganisation plan for the company. Now equipped with other aircrafts - Boeing - Air Mauritanie oriented itself towards new destinations, especially France and Western Africa, filling the empty space left after its old strategic partner, Air Afrique.
All kind of problems
"Mr Ould Hamoud had great ambitions for the company, but he did not have the means to reach them," indicated a superior officer at Air Mauritanie who asked to remain anonymous. Consequently, shareholders got increasingly impatient demanding fresh capital to be poured into the seemingly bottomless well of expenses. The government did not want to intervene anymore, as if it was remorseful over having ever sold this instrument of sovereignty.
Plagued with inherited unsolvable problems and ever-growing losses, Air Mauritanie indeed was very difficult to "restart", which also was understood by its director. Discouraged by the hardships, Mr Ould Hamoud started to concentrate only on day-to-day businesses until he decided to leave in April 2005.
The first action of his successor, Yahya Ould Waghef, was to ask government to unfreeze ouguiya 1.5 billion (euro 4.4 million) as an urgent measure to begin paying back loans to impatient international creditors.
Later, Mr Ould Waghef proposed a recapitalisation plan for the airliner, which foresaw the transfer of a great part of Air Mauritanie's debt to the state and the rest to shareholders, as well as an injection of fresh funds to finance tax debts and the execution of a social plan. The scheme raised over ouguiya 5 billion (euro 15 million) in fresh capital and debt cancellation, again making the Mauritanian state the airliner's majority shareholder.
A general assembly of shareholders on 3 August this year finally granted the state a new mandate to search for a new strategic partner for Air Mauritanie. The wide mandate also includes that private shareholders renounced their rights to block the government's selection of a new strategic partner.
Mauritania's Ministry of Equipment and Transports thereupon sent a delegation to Morocco to ask the Rabat government to consider a strategic partnership between Air Mauritanie and Royal Air Maroc. The mission was successful. The parties agreed that Air Maroc was to take a majority hold in the shares of Air Mauritanie and take over the management of Mauritania's national airliner by sending Air Maroc staff to Nouakchott even before the definitive decision to take over the Mauritanian airliner.
The sending of an Air Maroc management team however may take longer time than desired by Mauritania as the Moroccans have been careful to request an exhaustive analysis of Air Mauritanie before committing themselves too deeply. The examination will take anything from six months to one year, where after the transition will be completed.
The new Mauritanian government that emerges after the upcoming elections thus will be free to continue on this route or change directions.
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