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Published: 10 December 2009      

Bolloré proposes Berbera-Adis Ababa transport corridor

Bolloré Africa Logistics, part of the privately-owned Bolloré Group, has come up with a plan to connect the Ethiopian capital with the Port of Berbera in Somaliland

Outlining the project in London yesterday (9 December), BAL's executive vice president, Dominique Lafont, made the point that Ethiopia, which has been landlocked since Eritrea became independent in the early 1990s, is today totally dependent for foreign seaborne trade on just one outlet, the port in Djibouti.

"A country the size of Ethiopia, with a population of 80 million, should clearly have alternatives for foreign trade," Lafont remarked.

"We think we can help Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government is very interested and we have the right experience in Africa to offer services on this new corridor."

BAL already provides successful long-haul trucking services in other parts of Africa and has developed what it calls a "corridor approach." Examples include Durban-Lubumashi (2950 kms), Dar Es Salaam-Bujumbura (1780 kms), Mombasa-Kigali (1670 kms), etc.

BAL's own road fleet comprises around 1500 tractors and trucks and 2200 trailers, together accounting for around 30% of its transport corridor requirements in Africa. This fleet is supported by preferential agreements with other trucking firms.

"Managing transport corridors is probably the biggest added-value service that we can offer our customers, because we can provide door-to-door services despite often very challenging physical, operating and security conditions," continued Lafont.

The Port of Berbera was formerly a Soviet naval base and, having checked out the infrastructure there, BAL estimates that over time major new investments in port facilities could be justified, although it could start up operations there fairly quickly.

However, some E100-200M is needed to bring the road connecting the port with the Ethiopian border up to a reasonable standard. BAL has plenty of experience operating ports with poor inland connectivity, so is confident that port operations could begin first, to "kick start" things.

The problem is raising finance for both the port and the road link, since Somaliland is not recognised internationally, so major development agencies such as the World Bank cannot be asked for help.

"We have been working on this for around 18 months and we are starting to get international support, but it's certainly a very difficult project," said Lafont. "In due time Eritrea may open itself to the world and that would provide Ethiopia with an outlet at Asmara, but that is not a problem for us. A country the size of Ethiopia easily justifies three sea ports."

Somaliland is the autonomous region that seceded from Somalia and it has its own government, seated in Haregeisa, which is still seeking international recognition as an independent Republic and has applied to join the British Commonwealth. Its area corresponds to the former British Somaliland.

The Berbera-Adis Ababa plan is among a number of projects in which BAL is now involved in the "top part" of Africa, as it meets what Lafont calls the "pan-African challenge."

It is in discussions with undisclosed local parties to set up joint ventures in both Egypt and Libya, covering port management and project logistics. In Algeria, it may become involved in a dry port in Skidah in the east of the country, serving the "oil corridor."

BAL is Africa's biggest port operator with a 50% share of the container market in West Africa. However, port operations account for only around 20% of BAL's activities. These embrace ship agency, ship repair (currently highly profitable), freight forwarding and airfreight as well as barging, trucking and, in Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon, freight and passenger rail operations as well.

It has dry port and warehousing operations, provides commodity export and import services, as well as project management. Its comprehensive coverage has enabled it to step up its supply chain management and total logistic service activities.

Lafont also reported that BAL will develop Congo Terminal (Pointe Noire), where it is building a new deep water berth, as a transhipment hub for Far East-West Africa container traffic. As previously reported, APM Terminals is now part of the Congo Terrminal concession, with BAL and other local partners.

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