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Cameroon: Arlette Tanga, the lawyer and academic who promotes air and space law in Africa

For several years now, Arlette Tanga, a Cameroonian attorney and academic specializing in air and space law, has been actively involved in promoting this field, which is still little known and practiced in Africa, through the African Association of Air and Space Law (AADAS), which she founded in 2019.

Teacher at the University of Yaoundé II in Cameroon and attorney at the Paris Bar, Arlette Tanga specializes in aviation and space law. It was thanks to a professor, she recounts, that she discovered this field, during a course on transport law, while studying for a Diploma of Advanced Studies (DEA) in business law at the University of Yaoundé II. “Growing up in the far north of Cameroon, every year we would go on vacation to Yaoundé by plane. I was captivated by this large device, which fueled my dream of becoming a flight attendant. Unfortunately, I was discouraged from following this profession… So, during my legal studies at the University of Yaoundé 2, I really enjoyed listening to a lecturer talk about air transport. My only thought was to return to my passion, and that’s how it all started”, she explains.

For her DEA dissertation, she decided to work on “air carrier liability in the event of an air disaster”, and went on to write a doctoral thesis in private law at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne in France, entitled “Essay on a general theory of air disasters in Central Africa”. During the writing of her thesis, as she was interested in the stakeholders involved in the air transport ecosystem, she discovered space law, which was to become her area of interest, both as a teacher-researcher and as a lawyer. “Air law or aviation law deals with everything relating to the use of airspace and aeronautical activities. It deals with the rules governing flight safety, passenger rights, airline regulation, among others…,” she explains. As for space law, she adds, “it is a branch of international law which establishes the rules governing the use of outer space. It applies to everything related to space activities, whether it is sending satellites, exploring planets or managing space debris. It ensures that space activities are carried out for the benefit of all, promoting cooperation between countries and ensuring that space remains a conflict-free domain accessible to all, without appropriation by any single nation.

According to the Cameroonian, these two disciplines are of particular importance today in Africa due to the growing role of aviation in the economic development and regional integration of the continent and the increasingly active participation of African states in space activities, either by launching satellites or by contributing to international missions. With the rapid growth of air and space activities in Africa, she points out, these disciplines offer various professional opportunities for Africans, ranging from specialized lawyers for airlines, air passengers or space agencies and African civil aviation, in positions of legal advisors/consultants or lawyers within international organizations such as ICAO, the African Space Agency, the African Civil Aviation Commission and Asecna. These careers not only benefit specialists, but also contribute to the development of common legal skills in Africa, she confides.

A dual career as an attorney and academic

Arlette Tanga holds a doctorate in private law and certificates of aptitude for the attorney profession in France and in legal and tax consultancy in Cameroon, issued by the National Employment Fund of Cameroon. She began her career in teaching in 2010 as a lecturer. She was then recruited as a university assistant in 2011. At the same time, she helped set up the Faculty of Legal and Political Sciences at International Institute of Central Africa, represented in Cameroon and Chad.

During her thesis in France, she held the position of temporary teaching and research associate at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, as well as at the Paris 8 University Vincennes-Saint-Denis. After completing several internships within law firms specializing in aviation law, notably Chevriers Avocats and Clyde & Co in Paris, she was sworn in as a member of the Paris Bar in 2020, where she currently practices. She then joined Tanga & Co Law Firm in Yaoundé as a partner. In addition to aviation and space law, her practice focuses also on consumer law, banking and credit law, civil proceedings and enforcement, as well as family, personal and estate law.

Promoting African expertise in air and space law

In parallel to her career as a teacher-researcher and lawyer, she is committed to promoting air and space law. Actually, while carrying out her doctoral research, she was confronted with a frustrating reality: limited access to documentation and existing work on the subject in Africa, as well as the difficulty in getting in touch with African professionals in this area. Nevertheless, she gradually discovered the existence of African specialists, but whose work remains largely unknown.

Aware of this untapped wealth, she founded, after the defense of her thesis, the African Association of Air and Space Law (AADAS) which “aims to promote air and space law in Africa, by encouraging research and training in this field, by bringing together specialists in the sector, and by acting as an influential think tank to advise African states and private actors,” she confides.

To date, the association brings together African specialists in air and space law, mainly from English-speaking Africa. It aims to become a key player as a center of expertise in the field of air and space law in Africa, providing crucial legal expertise to African states when concluding important agreements, and providing advice to African private players and researchers.

Activities targeting key players, but also citizens

In the space field, AADAS organized in May 2021, in collaboration with the African Union Commission’s Directorate of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, an online conference on “the state of space policy and regulation in Africa”. Each year, it also takes part in the “NewSpace Africa Conference”, the flagship event bringing together the main players in the African space sector. In air law, the association initiated an online conference in November 2021 on the legal aspects of promoting intra-continental tourism. In partnership with the International Network of Women Lawyers (RIFAV), it launched in 2022 a series of masterclasses on transport law. Since 2023, the NGO has been working with key institutions in Africa’s civil aviation sector to raise passenger awareness of their rights. This project, which has been successfully implemented in Central Africa, is currently underway in West Africa.

For the Cameroonian lawyer and academic, “it is essential that the public authorities appropriate these disciplines in order to make the most of them and to ensure that both private and public sector players benefit from them, but also that citizens are informed of their rights as passengers, particularly in cases of flight delays or cancellations, luggage loss and other abuses”.

Today, Arlette Tanga’s ambition is not only to create a research laboratory for air and space law in Africa, but also to make her firm a leader in this field in French-speaking Africa, and to encourage more African women to enter these legal areas. By bridging the gap between teaching and legal practice, she is working to transform the landscape of air and space law in Africa, promoting both local expertise and the integration of women in this sector.



Danielle France Engolo