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Published: 16 December 2015      

Legal challenge in West African rail

Geftarail has gone to court to block the development of the new railway between Bénin and Niger by Bolloré Africa Logistics

The governments of Bénin and Niger signed an agreement with Bolloré to develop a new railway in September.

Rival French firm Geftarail has asked the International Court of Arbitration in Paris to require the governments of Bénin and Niger to halt work on the project. It claims that the rights given to Bolloré overlap with its own rail rights in the region.

Geftarail insists that it was awarded a concession in 1999 to build a railway from Bénin through Niger to Burkina Faso, which was later to be extended to include Togo, although it does not appear to have undertaken any construction work.

Bolloré intends to develop a 3000km railway from Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire through Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Niamey in Niger to Cotonou in Bénin. It has been suggested that the two sides could come together to jointly develop the new railway in the region. The Bénin-Niger section of the project is known as “the backbone”.

The situation is complicated by a third claim. Béninois firm Petrolin insists that it was granted the rights to construct a new railway from Cotonou to Niamey in 2010 and has been seeking court action to block any other rail projects in Bénin since 2014.

In late November, the Béninois Appeals Court issued a statement asking “both the state of Bénin and the company Bolloré Africa Logistics to refrain from any works on the components of the backbone project, subject to a fine of CFA100M ($161,809) per day.”

A spokesperson for BAL is reported to have responded: “We do not want to stop work, but we must respect the court’s decision. [State rail company] Bénirail points out that the signed agreements stipulate that, in the case of a challenge, states will assume the consequences of prior agreements.”


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