A new port in southern Cameroon is set to alleviate the chronic congestion and delays at the country's main port and to pave the way for new industrial projects.
Delays in imports and exports caused by inefficiencies at Cameroon's Douala port have hurt the economy, but the new port under construction at Kribi could quicken the pace of trade and boost the country's performance.
Kribi is going to fix all of the congestion problems at Douala and contribute to its growth
Government planners want Kribi to become a hub for imports into the Gulf of Guinea.
"According to our projections, the country will benefit from an additional 1.5% in economic growth each year once the complex is totally operational," explains a source working on the project who requested anonymity.
Kribi, a small seaside town in the south, is home to one of Central Africa's largest construction projects.
The Kribi port includes several associated projects, including an industrial zone and minerals-processing area.
China Harbour Engineering Company began the first phase of construction in 2011, and the first containers arrived at the port in 2014.
Other projects will use Kribi port's infrastructure.
The Société Camerounaise des Dépôts Pétroliers and Canadian firm Blaze Energy plan to build an oil storage station.
Meanwhile, French company GDF-Suez and Cameroon's Société Nationale des Hydrocarbures are working on plans for a liquefied natural gas plant.
Australia's Sundance Resources is in talks to build an iron-processing plant for the ore it will mine at the deposits at Mbalam and Nabeba, which are located near the border between Cameroon and the Republic of Congo.
Since 2009 Anglo-Australian company Rio Tinto has planned to build an alumina refinery at Kribi with a capacity to produce 1.2m tonnes per year at an estimated cost of $9bn.
But that may not happen, as the company announced its plans to withdraw from its other aluminium project in Cameroon last year.
Companies move in
More than 30 companies in the metals, petrochemicals, cement, agro-industrial and logistics sectors have already requested land for projects in Kribi.
Those projects will need electricity. Globeleq, which had the backing of the World Bank, inaugurated a 216MW gas-fired power plant near Kribi in 2013.
The government is working on the creation of a special economic zone, which is already attracting interest from Chinese operators.
Promoters says that all of the projects combined could create 10,000 jobs.
Currently, the population of Kribi is estimated at upwards of 50,000 people.
The government says the additional port is needed because of the poor performance of Douala port.
"Kribi is going to fix all of the congestion problems at Douala and contribute to its growth," says an official on the committee overseeing the construction of Kribi port.
The official says that Kribi's competitiveness will be based on its prices: "We will impose lower charges for the future terminal operators, which will certainly have repercussions on prices at Douala."
Studies show that a 10% reduction in prices at Kribi will lead to a 7% drop in costs at Douala.
In late April, media reports said that government officials had shortlisted companies ICTSI and APM Terminals to manage Kribi's container terminal, and a final decision should be announced soon.
An estimated 95% of Cameroon's exports transit through Douala – "one of the most disastrous port sites in the world," in the words of a shipping company employee.
The port's problems include chronic congestion, the choking of the access channels with sand and the lack of modern equipment capable of dealing with the high level of traffic.
Goods spend an average of 22 days at the port facilities, which World Bank reports say is five times longer than at South Africa's port of Durban.
For Cameroon's importers and exporters, full-scale operations at Kribi's container terminal cannot start soon enough. ●