Spice, Flight, and Expectations in Africa

After the great colonial powers relinquished their overseas possessions, one of the symbols of sovereignty was having an international airline. Africa, Asia, and South America sprouted new carriers, which proudly flew new flags but usually served the same European food that was standard around the world. Take a look at this Ghana Airways menu, which is probably from the early 1970’s:¬†GhanaAirwaysMenuThe new airlines had to deal with two facts: first, few of their own people could afford to fly, so they had to please European and American palates to have any hope of attracting customers. Second, for people who are used to spicy and flavorful food bland meals are dull but edible, while people used to bland food will reject spicy and unfamiliar items. Serving English or French -style meals was a safe choice, so even between points in Africa and Asia the food served usually did not reflect local tastes.

The reports I have read of food aboard most of these carriers were not positive, though service problems may not be entirely to blame for the demise of Ghana Airways. The airline ran off schedule so often and overbooked their flights so regularly that having a ticket and showing up at the airport at the appointed time was no guarantee that you would actually go anywhere. Like many other new airlines they were an instrument of state policy and flew some routes to serve political purposes Рin three months of operation between Accra and Khartoum, they flew twelve paying passengers. Other routes that were actually popular were underserved; while those empty planes flew back and forth to Sudan, flights to Europe and America routinely were so overloaded that fistfights erupted over who would get to board the aircraft.  There were multiple instances of passengers taking airport personnel hostage, threatening to burn down ticket offices and terminals, and rioting because they had been stranded at remote airports. The only surprise when Ghana Airways went bankrupt in 2005 was that it had taken so long. The routes that made economic sense were taken up by less nationalistic but more reliable foreign carriers, and a new generation of private airlines provides a wider range of cuisine aboard flights that actually depart and arrive on something approximating a schedule.