After two years of pandemic and while the war in Ukraine disrupts international trade, the head of the port of Abidjan gave an interview to RFI. Hien Yacouba Sié describes his modernization strategy and comments on the MSC’s takeover of the Bolloré Group’s logistics operations.
RFI: How does the port of Abidjan come out of the pandemic period that has seriously disrupted world trade?
Hien Yacouba Sie: Despite the shock of 2020, 2021 has been a rather interesting year for the port of Abidjan in terms of traffic. This is the consequence of the vitality of the Ivorian economy. This resulted in record traffic of 30 million in gross tonnage (goods and containers), 28 million in net tonnage, which corresponds to a growth of 12% compared to 2020.
What product are you investing in and who are your customers today?
We can first talk about cement inserts. A land under construction requires a lot of building materials. To this must be added an increase in exports of agricultural products, in particular cashews. For destinations, the Asia-Oceania zone accounts for about 36% of traffic, compared with 28-30% for Europe, but inter-African traffic has also experienced growth of almost 27%.
What products are traded in Africa?
We import very roughly from Nigeria mainly, but not only. We also have exchanges with Morocco and more generally North Africa. When it comes to phosphate, fertilizers, we are one of the few countries with Cameroon that exports. We also have rubber, cocoa, coffee. And then Ivory Coast became interested in mining: manganese, nickel, etc. It provides an interesting perspective that encourages investment.
The port of Abidjan is in debt but it is a very good debt, a catalyst for the economy. It is a debt that is sustainable because our resources ensure that we do not go bankrupt. This is important for the future of our country, but also for the West African economy as many countries depend on the performance of the port of Abidjan. Our role is to offer a service that meets the operators’ expectations, that the port for them is a catalyst for their delivery and export rather than a bottleneck.
It is also a port that needs to be modernized. Where are your projects?
If we start from 2011, we have really taken a big step forward. We have inherited the results of decades of non-investment. Since the 1980s, major investment at the level of the State of Côte d’Ivoire itself has been halted or suspended due to the long socio-political or military crises we have experienced. The port of Abidjan must be put in working order. Significant investments have therefore been made: approximately 1,100 billion CFA francs from 2012 to 2022 via two strategic plans. Some projects have been completed: the fishing port in 2015, the Vridi canal inaugurated in 2019, the RORO terminal in 2020. And there are ongoing projects: the grain terminal and especially the other container terminal. Today, Abidjan has the handicap of not being able to receive large container vessels. We receive them with a maximum capacity of 3,500 containers, while ships visiting the West African coasts can transport up to 12,000 containers.
And so, where’s this project?
It’s quite advanced. The inauguration is planned for November 2022. This raises many expectations among all port stakeholders and the state of Côte d’Ivoire. That was our ambition and it can predict the Ivory Coast and the port of Abidjan to process efforts over the next 50 years. It is a port built through a public-private partnership for an investment of 506 billion CFA francs: 250 by the state through the port and 256 by the private operator. It is a port that will be based on the latest technology, for portals for example. And we insisted on the ecological aspect of the terminal with electric vehicles. The port of Abidjan is ISO 14001 certified (environmental criteria).
What do you think about MSC’s takeover of Bolloré’s logistics operations, including the port of Abidjan?
The subject will be dealt with at two levels, at system level and at port level. At a purely port level, we have a contract with the APMT-Bolloré group that has requirements and is not in itself questionable. At the systemic level, however, it is something else. Mergers of large corporations like these, we must ensure that they do not go against our national interests. I believe that we are all working on it to ensure that, regardless of the change at the forefront of our structures, the interests of our countries and our structures are preserved.
► To read also: The port of Abidjan, the trading pillar between the Ivory Coast and the rest of the world