Even though the international port groups Bolloré and Maersk are ambitious, they still only have a small presence in Africa’s container terminals, which are dominated by a few select operators. Here is a visual overview with information about the most powerful players who remain at the helm of the continent's ports.
Two of the world’s top five, China’s Cosco Shipping Ports and Singapore’s PSA International, are completely absent from the continent, if one excludes Cosco’s minority stake (20%) in the large Egyptian terminal of Port Said, located at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal. China’s Hutchison Ports, another global giant, has only gained a small foothold in Egypt.
The continent, Bolloré’s future ex-raison d’être?
Africa is first and foremost the hunting ground of a group that has long made it its raison d’être, namely Bolloré. Although the French family-owned conglomerate, headed by Vincent Bolloré, is only marginally present in the world’s other ports (in India, Timor and Haiti, after even exiting French ports in 2019), it is the undisputed leader of the continent’s main port concession market, West Africa. More often than not, Bolloré has won bids in association with APM Terminals, the port subsidiary of the world’s (and Africa’s) number one container shipping company, Denmark’s Maersk.
The two groups seem to have a lot of potential at three West African ports – Tema in Ghana, Pointe-Noire in Congo-Brazzaville, and Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire – as well as a new terminal under construction, TC2. APM Terminals, in particular, is an African port success story as it is dominant in Morocco and more precisely in Tanger Med, where it controls two of the four terminals.
APM Terminals also has a foothold with Bolloré in Conakry, while the French group is a service provider to the Dutch group at the APMT terminal in Monrovia. The two groups have only experienced one setback, in Douala, where their concession was not renewed on 1 January 2020. However, the duo have since had many legal victories over the autonomous port.
It is only the public group DP World, an Emirati multinational logistics company based in Dubai, that seems to be able to compete with the two leaders. 15 years ago, it beat out Dakar for Bolloré and, after the initial winner CMA CGM withdrew, it obtained one of the last concessions awarded this year, Luanda’s multipurpose terminal in Angola. It is also trying to break into the complex DRC market.
DP World has just put CDC Group, the British corporation’s financial institution, in its pocket so that it can boost projects in three of its African strongholds: Dakar, where the Emirati group has been chosen to develop the new port of Ndayane; Berbera, a consolation prize from Ethiopia after it was ousted from Djibouti in 2018; and Sokhna, at the southern entrance to Suez.
Apart from purely local operators in countries where the port market is not yet open, such as the South African state-owned giant Transnet and Kenya’s public ports authority, there are still a few large global groups present in African ports.
CMA CGM, which has been rumoured to be interested in Bolloré’s assets despite some mistrust on the part of its CEO Rodolphe Saadé, is carrying out a major project in Lekki, Nigeria, to open up Lagos and establish itself in Kribi alongside Bolloré.
TIL, the port subsidiary of the world’s second-largest container company, MSC, has staked everything on Lomé in Togo, where it is enjoying considerable success. Its attempts to succeed the Bolloré-APMT duo in Douala seem to be hampered by the current legal maelstrom.
China Merchants Ports is also a major player. However, it is often discreetly associated with either Bolloré in Lagos, TIL in Lomé, CMA CGM in Morocco (via their global Terminal Link joint venture), or as a minority partner of the state in Djibouti. The final challenger that should not be overlooked is the Filipino company ICTSI, which has been involved in almost all African tenders in recent years.