Cameroon has a pivotal place within Central Africa’s economic grouping, providing important access routes to sea ports on the Gulf of Guinea for its landlocked neighbours. Recent developments in Cameroon’s road and rail networks are set to drive the region’s economic growth, as Stephen Williams reports.
Part and parcel of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)’s vision for Central Africa is to connect all the capitals of Central Africa by a paved road. But currently only Yaoundé (Cameroon) and Libreville (Gabon) have a metalled road in place.
The international donor community, principally the World Bank, IMF and of course the African Development Bank (AfDB) have pledged to support the Cameroonian government’s efforts to develop modern, efficient transport infrastructure.
As part of its growth and employment strategy paper (GESP), the Cameroon government has launched a 10-year development plan giving priority to infrastructure development. The government has been implementing a massive public investment programme, comprising a dozen large infrastructure projects, including roads, deep-sea ports and thermal and hydraulic power plants.
The GESP objective is that by 2020 to construct two new deep-sea ports. Cameroon attracted private-sector participation in the Douala port container terminal in 2004, but the port lags behind the average time for handling containers in sub-Saharan Africa and is approaching its maximum capacity.
Looking ahead, the two new ports will help fill the demand for additional port facilities, as robust growth in the region continues. Plans to rehabilitate 2,000km of existing roads and to build 3,500km of new roads will help improve the current situation.
Cameroon’s road networks connect Chad and the Central African Republic – Cameroon’s two land-locked neighbouring countries – to the Port of Douala and the Douala – Ngaoundere railway line.
The transport links between Douala, Cameroon’s commercial capital and principal seaport, and Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, has been described as the backbone of Central Africa’s transport infrastructure network.
It is calculated that, through rehabilitating the road and rail networks, as many as 3.5 million residents of Cameroon’s Far North region, (or about 20% of the country’s population) will benefit, including residents of the cities of Maroua, Mora, and Kousseri.
However, as important as this project is, there is far more envisaged within the Cameroon Multimodal Transport Project, and the African Development Bank (AfDB) is playing a key role with on-going projects such as the Kumba-Mamfe Road Development Project; the Ketta-Djoum Road and Brazzaville-Yaoundé Corridor Transport Facilitation Project; the Bamenda-Mamfe-Ekok-Enugu programme; and the Batchenga-Ntui –Yoko-Tibati- Ngaoundéré Road study.
Indeed, the AfDB has, since 1972 when it started its operations in Cameroon, participated in the financing of 26 transport infrastructure operations (including multinational projects) for a total of $1.19bn, representing almost 20% of all Bank operations in the country.
The projects implemented have opened up access to many previously isolated regions, reduced road transport costs, improved the level of service and access to socio-economic infrastructure in project areas, and boosted trade with neighbouring countries.
Last summer, a consortia led by Louis Berger won two contracts to undertake work supervision on the National Highway 9, on both sides of the Congo Brazzaville – Cameroon border.
The works specifically concern the Ketta-Biessi-Cameroon road to the border, a 311km stretch in the Congo; and the 200km Djoum-Mintom-Congo road in Cameroon.
In fact, Louis Berger has over 50 years of experience in Africa and more than 20 years of experience working in Cameroon. The company traces its origins to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in the US more than half a century ago, but today it has a global presence – with 10 ongoing projects in Cameroon and more than 20 projects completed in the country in the last 20 years.
Other international engineering and construction companies active in Cameroon include the Portuguese company Mota Engil, and the Belgian-based Préfarail.
Préfarail has been contracted to construct a $1bn, 50km tram system for the capital Yaoundé, to alleviate the serious congestion in the city. Government also intends to build two new interchanges at key road junctions in Yaoundé to further relieve the build up of traffic at key bottlenecks.
Meanwhile, Mota-Engil is building a 602km rail link between Mbalam and the new deepwater port at Kribi, 200km south of Douala, at a cost of $580m. The port is designed principally for the export of iron ore but also to handle bauxite/alumina, fuel oils, liquefied natural gas and other minerals.
Louis Berger was selected by the Kribi Port Authority to supervise the earthworks for the platforms that will accommodate the port and its ancillary facilities on a 26,000ha site, as well as preparing project schedules, developing construction plans, and generally overseeing the site’s development.
Kribi Port is being constructed by the Chinese company, China Harbour Engineering Co. Also envisaged is a new rail link between Kribi and Ngaoundera.
Louis Berger is also involved with the construction of a second bridge over the Wouri River, near Douala, being built with finance from the French Development Agency.
The Louis Berger team’s responsibilities include reviewing the preliminary and final designs of the new structure, being built by Sogea-Satom as the lead contractor.
The bridge will carry five road traffic lanes, two pedestrian walkways and twin rail tracks. The 760m bridge is costing $160m and should be completed by mid-2017. Already, a third bridge is being contemplated and tenders are being invited.
Bolloré Africa Logistics has, since 1999, managed the Camrail rail network in Cameroon. The company’s intention is to raise the standards and, in partnership with government, banks and international funding organisations, to invest in the modernisation and upkeep of the infrastructure, equipment and rolling stock.
Bolloré has introduced a programme to renovate stations and improve passenger service in Cameroon. And last year, in early May, Camrail introduced an intercity express service between Yaoundé and Douala, Cameroon’s two major cities.
The official launch of the new service introduced a 3h40m service along the 265km between the two cities two times daily, with 40 newly purchased passenger carriages costing nearly $21m. It is estimated that the company will carry 1.5 million passengers a year.
Complementing its passenger services, Camrail offers a range of specialised rolling stock: platform wagons for dry or refrigerated containers; covered wagons for conventional freight (sawed timber, cotton, construction materials, bagged goods, etc.); bulk tanker wagons for fuel and other fluids; and high-sided one wagons for dry bulk.
Government has prioritised rail freight as essential for the exploitation of the many minerals that the country possesses. Rail freight is also considered essential for the agricultural sector, to enable farmers to get their produce to markets with an alternative to road freight.
Four years ago, government presented an ambitious $28bn railway master plan to substantially expand its rail network within its borders and beyond, to connect with neighbouring countries.
The Douala/Limbe route, from the economic capital to what will be the country’s biggest commercial port would seem to be the scheduled as the next to be built, as the Limbe deep seaport is the next project of the ambitious government policy to develop seaports. The focus of the $800m Limbe Port initiative will initially be on creating a modern container terminal.
The Limbe Port Development Corporation, backed by South Korea, will consist of four terminals with a 200,000 a year 20ft equivalent units (teu) container capacity. That capacity is scheduled to rise to 1.5m teu a year by 2050, and Limbe is close enough to the commercial capital and principal seaport, Douala, to relieve much of the older port’s congestion which has reached the limits of its expansion.
As well as container freight, the new port at Limbe is expected to handle coastal shipping and include an oil terminal and industrial zone. It has the potential to greatly stimulate the volume of trade passing through Cameroon to and from the Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Congo Brazzaville.