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Cameroon: Bolloré sought Biya’s influence over Doula port concession

By Olivier Caslin
Posted on Friday, 27 September 2019 14:04, updated on Saturday, 28 September 2019 05:07

Bolloré is the largest transport group in Africa, with 17 port concessions. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon

Cyrille Bolloré, the new CEO of the eponymous family group, shows how he means to do business by personally writing to Cameroonian president Paul Biya to request his arbitration in the concession war for the container terminal at Douala port.

In a long letter published by Jeune Afrique, which concludes with a handwritten note saying “Vincent Bolloré sends his friendly memories”, the 33-year-old, who succeeded his father as head of the conglomerate in March, asked the Cameroonian head of state to intervene “so that the agreement signed with the port of Douala on 4 October 2017 [before the opening of the call for tenders] is implemented”.

Bolloré’s letter is dated 12 September – four days prior to the announcement by the Port Autonome de Douala (PAD) that the Italian-Swiss operator Terminal Investment Limited (TIL), a subsidiary of MSC, would replace Douala International Terminal (DIT), jointly owned by Bolloré Transport & Logistics (BTL) and APM Terminals, on 1 January 2020. The agreement it refers to extended DIT’s concession on the container terminal for a further four years.

“Unfair treatment”

After enumerating at length the different sectors in which his group has participated in the Cameroonian economy (transport, communication, cinema, electric batteries and plantations, as well as the flagship Kribi port), Bolloré complains of “unfair treatment” and appears to threaten a blanket withdrawal:

  • “We are nevertheless fully aware that our group cannot envisage a future in Cameroon if certain authorities in the country want us excluded, and if we do not succeed in putting an end to the conflicting media and legal controversies into which we have been pulled.”

He says his subsidiary had requested the protection of national courts and the International Court of Arbitration to defend itself after its demand for 24bn CFA francs ($40bn) in compensation was met with legal claims against it.

Awaiting Supreme Court decision

On 16 August, the Douala Administrative Court issued a first decision in the operator’s favour, requesting that the award process be postponed. PAD management, however, ignored this, appointing the contracts to TIL on a provisional basis until the Supreme Court of Cameroon has made its decision.

DIT says the the PAD risked breaking the law by doing so. It also published a document at the beginning of September challenging the traffic forecasts adopted by the port authority to validate its choice.

Whether Paul Biya replied to Cyrille Bolloré, or whether he was prepared to intervene on such a political issue, remains the subject of conjecture. Perhaps we will have an answer in the coming weeks, when the country’s Supreme Court renders its decision.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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