Bolloré Africa Logistics today confirmed that it was in negotiations with the Somaliland authorities to develop a port in Berbera, on the Gulf of Aden.
“The Berbera port has indeed caught our attention,” CEO Dominique Lafont told Port Finance International. During an interview in London, he explained that such a project could ease trade in and out of Somaliland, a breakaway Somali state.
The port could also act as a gateway to neighbouring landlocked Ethiopia, Mr Lafont added. With a population in excess of 90 million and a growing influx of foreign investments, Ethiopia is bound to play an increasing role in East Africa, he noted.
“We therefore started negotiating with the Somaliland authorities several years ago. These negotiations have been through various twists and turns. For the second time, we are getting closer to conclusion,” Mr Lafont said, before insisting that talks were ongoing and that nothing was settled yet. “We are fully aware of the highly entrepreneurial aspect of this concession.”
Bolloré Africa Logistics is the number one operator in Africa, both in terms of ports (15) and TEUs handled. Its boss explained that the French group’s strategy consists in combining the sea ports it holds in concession with the inland logistics network it operates “so as to open up African economies.”
“With Ethiopia, we have a textbook case, as it is a totally landlocked country with a huge potential,” Mr Lafont said.
Somaliland unilaterally declared independence from Somalia in 1991 and is trying gain international recognition.
For Bolloré Africa Logistics, the Berbera project is part of a wider strategy. The group, which has a strong port presence in western and central Africa, wants to expand those port activities to eastern Africa, where it already has logistics activities. In recent years, it won port concessions in Moroni (Comoros) and in Pemba (Mozambique).
Besides this “Pan-African axis”, Bolloré has ambitions beyond Africa. A few months ago, it made its first port investment outside the continent: it acquired a minority share in a container terminal in Tuticorin, on the southern tip of India.
Mr Lafont told PFI that Bolloré Africa Logistics is looking at opportunities elsewhere on the Indian subcontinent, in South-East Asia, and in parts of Latin and Central America.