Meritus seeks funding for Lake Tanganyika’s New African Queen

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Tuesday, 9 August 2022 06:00

Lake Tanganyika (twitter: @east_facts)

Dubai-based Meritus Development is seeking to raise up to $58m for two east African logistics projects including a floating containerised port on Lake Tanganyika, CEO Andrew Lemon tells The Africa Report.

The company wants to raise $40m to $45m to build the floating port. Meritus has engaged naval engineers to design a vessel which would allow loading, unloading and transhipment in the lake, with a capacity for 180 20-foot containers. The lake’s stormy weather and powerful waves mean that the vessel will need to be built to an almost ocean-going standard, Lemon says.

The floating port would be the largest new vessel on the lake since the MV Liemba ferry, originally called the Graf von Goetzen and built in 1913. The vessel parts were made in Germany and transported to the lake, part of the way by land-based porters, in 5,000 wooden crates. Originally intended as a ferry, the vessel was converted into an auxiliary warship in the First World War. It was scuttled during the war, but salvaged by the British Royal Navy in 1924 and brought back into service, renamed MV Liemba, as a passenger and cargo ferry in 1927.

The vessel, which still runs today as one of the world’s oldest ferries, was the inspiration for the German vessel the Königin Luisa in the 1951 movie The African Queen, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.

  • “If they could build it in 1913, we can do it today,” Lemon says.

DRC’s membership in the East African Community (EAC) has the potential to expand regional trade if logistical hurdles can be overcome. Entry into the EAC by the DRC in March increased the bloc’s population by about 50% to 280m people.

  • Lake Tanganyika, the world’s second-largest freshwater lake by volume, has the potential to serve as a “superhighway” for trade, but remains “chronically underused,” Lemon says.

‘Dubai mentality’

Lemon is an architect and property developer who has developed projects in Russia, Indonesia and the UAE. Meritus is owned by Lemon and his three founding partners. His focus has shifted to African infrastructure projects, and he recalls meeting Zanzibar president Hussein Ali Mwinyi in October 2021.

Ali Mwinyi wondered why it was necessary to serve visitors crisps made in the UK as a snack. The answer, of course, was a lack of logistics. “We grow beautiful avocados but they rot in the fields,” Ali Mwinyi said.

Lemon also aims to build a dry port at Kipushi, a new town on the border between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), to include warehousing, cold storage and customs facilities. The first phase of the project will cost $13m.

Lemon sees grounds for optimism following the election of Hakainde Hichilema as Zambian president in 2021. Hichilema has started to introduce a “Dubai mentality” in terms of getting things done, Lemon says. He “is not scared to be a little unpopular” when challenging people as to why things might not have been done.

  • The Kipushi project needs less initial finance because it can be implemented in stages, and Lemon aims to open an initial facility in the next 24 months.
  • The lake plan can’t be implemented piecemeal and faces the “critical issue” that all the lake’s ports will need simultaneous upgrading for container capacity, Lemon says. Land has been leased on the lake’s shores, and the company is “reasonably poised” to start work within three months of securing investment, he adds.
  • Meritus is looking for local partners for both projects.

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