COUNTRY FOCUS, CAMEROON | Kribi consortium confusion
With uncertainty about who would operate the Kribi multipurpose terminal after a leading member of the consortium that won the contract to manage the infrastructure went bankrupt, the state is now taking a leading role. A decision taken in December 2017 by the Port Autonome de Kribi (PAK), the state-owned company overseeing the port, to take over the terminal’s management has slowed private investors of the Necotrans/Kribi Port Multi Operators (KPMO) consortium down in their tracks. “We are gathering all the elements so that this terminal can be operational as quickly as possible, even without an operator. This is necessary to avoid the obsolescence of the equipment that is already there and has used up a lot of taxpayer money,” says Modeste Ako’o, PAK’s director of operations.
On 17 January, Cameroon’s prime minister Philémon Yang declared that French logistics firm Necotrans, partner of the KPMO group made up of nine local operators, had failed to respect the conditions of the concession awarded in 2015 for the terminal at the new deepwater Kribi port located in the southern region of the country. Under the 20-year contract for the management and maintenance of the terminal, Necotrans had planned to invest €26.2m ($29.6m). But in August 2017, the French court system ordered the liquidation of the Paris-based operator’s assets as part of the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.
The new developments surrounding the port’s management also have a political side. “In view of the October 2018 presidential election, the government is rushing to get operations at both the multipurpose terminal and the Kribi container terminal – awarded to a Bolloré/CMA-CGM/CHEC consortium and which will be officially operational on 1 March – started as soon as possible, before President Paul Biya’s campaign during which the ports will be officially inaugurated,” says a source familiar with the matter.
The Cameroonian government could look for a new operator to replace the French logistics firm, and bidders are not likely to be in short supply. Both South African investment firm AIIM Capital and Monaco Resources Group are already in a race to pick up Necotrans’ stake in the joint venture that held the Kribi concession. Even if PAK intends to manage affairs on its own for now, KPMO still hopes that it will eventually take over. The group of local companies is in the process of updating its statutes to include providing handling services.
In December 2017, Monaco Resources tried to tip the scale in its favour by sending Fabrice Viguier, chief executive of its subsidiary R-Logitech, to Cameroon. Viguier was helped by Mouctar Hamadama, a Cameroonian businessman, the board chairman of Necotrans’ Cameroon subsidiary and a close friend of former Necotrans head Grégory Quérel. Hamadama is also chairman of the board for Terminal Polyvalent de Kribi, the company created by Necotrans and KPMO to manage the terminal’s infrastructure. Viguier’s mission has yet to yield any positive results.
In the meantime, the group of nine local operators was making headway with the AIIM group’s African Ports & Corridor Holdings, which paid $9.4m for Necotrans’ stakes in the bulk materials ports at Dakar and Kribi. Both KPMO and AIIM officials met with the presidency in July 2017. The two parties signed a shareholder agreement in August. Now caught in legal limbo, the two sides are looking to Yaoundé for the next step. The government has, however, decided to focus on its most pressing needs, without hinting at the possible outcome of the Kribi port saga.
There are still a few options on the table. Moving forward, prime minister Yang could either start a new process to recruit an operator or strike a deal with Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), which lost to Necotrans in the 2015 bidding process. On 28 July, ICTSI senior vice-president Christian Gonzalez said the company was willing to invest $25.5m to seal the deal.
From the March 2018 print edition