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Transport: Hien Sié restores confidence to Abidjan port

By Pascal Airault and Jean-Michel Meyer
Posted on Monday, 16 April 2012 14:16

Appointed director general of the port of Abidjan at the end of 2010, Hien Sié has seen a steady build-up of traffic since the port re-opened in April last year.

Formerly run by the immensely wealthy Marcel Gossio, a staunch ally of fallen president Laurent Gbagbo, the Port Autonome d’Abidjan (PAA) has been under new management since Alassane Ouattara took up his post as Côte d’Ivoire president. With the port infrastructure a sensitive national asset, Ouattara ensured the new director general, Hien Sié, was both a solid technocrat and a close political ally.

The port, throug hwhich more than 90 percent of the country’s trade passes, employs nearly 54,000 people directly and indirectly, and generates 85 percent of customs revenues. Hien, who began his career at the engineering company Franzetti in 1992, was offered a job by the PAA in 1993, rising to director of works and maintenance at the port between 2000 and 2006.

The lost decade of spasmodic civil war, during which Côte d’Ivoire saw its previously booming port lose significant market share to neighbouring countries, is drawing to a close. Before 2004, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger transited 70 percent of their material through Côte d’Ivoire, but by August of 2011 that had fallen to 30 percent.

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“We started laboriously in April 2011, servicing one ship a day,” says Hien, “but now we are up to eight shiploads a day. There is a willingness among the businesses in our landlocked hinterland to return to Abidjan.” He estimates that the 2011 throughput was around 15-20 percent less than 2010, with turnover of CFA42bn ($84.2m), and hopes to reach 24-25m tn of traffic in 2012, against 17m tn in 2011.

“Our biggest challenge is structural,” he says. “The Vridi channel cannot handle ships larger than 260 metres, the draft cannot go beyond 11.5 metres in the port, and the handling costs are high. “The connections between the port, road and railway networks need to be overhauled before those costs can come down, and the Vridi channel is set to be widened and deepened.

Within the PAA itself there is also room for reform. The new director general has a bloated payroll in his sights, in line with the new slim-down mantra of the Ouattara government,which has shed many positions in ministries and parastatal bodies that were handed out as political largesse.

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“Salaries represent 38 percent of turnover,” says Hien. “Reforms are under way to bring that down to 25 percent by 2015.” This will be done by checking the authenticity of diplomas, establishing the optimal number of employees per division and offering incentives for voluntary redundancy.

There is also a push to create a new terminal hub on Boulay Island, which has access to deeper waters and would allow for a 600ha industrial zone.

This article was first published in the 2012 March edition of The Africa Report, on sale at newsstands, via our print subscription or our digital edition.

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