Kribi Deepwater Port Helps Cameroon Take Off

By Yi Fan

The city of Kribi in Cameroon is located on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, known as the Blue Coast. The scenery here is beautiful, with blue waves, coconut groves and a silver beach full of breeze and birdsong. The fishing boats on the far coastline are part of the scenery, showing the harmony between man and nature.

In addition to the beautiful scenery, the city today has a new attraction – the Kribi Deepwater Port, the fruit of mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Cameroon. On any given day, there are numerous containers moored at the wharf protected by a 1,000-meter-long breakwater. A 10,000-ton bulk carrier docked by a tugboat and being loaded with cargo is a common sight at the port.

But a decade ago, there were only a few small fishing villages here. No one could have imagined that ten years later, Cameroon's first large deepwater port with an annual throughput of 250,000 TEUs and 1.2 million tons of bulk cargo would be built here.

The momentous change started with the relocation of a fishing village, Lolabé.

Small Fishing Village Turns into a Big Port

Cameroon is heavily dependent on marine transportation and port trade for its economic development.

But in the past, its main port – the Port of Douala – lacked capacity, and to boost the economy in the southeast, the Cameroonian Government urgently needed to build a modern large-scale deepwater port with higher throughput capacity. The Kribi area, where Lolabé stood, had superior natural conditions and was selected as the location of the new port.

It meant the village would have to be relocated but the villagers were divided on whether to move or not. 

The village elders unanimously opposed relocation. Their families had lived here for generations and they were loath to leave. But the young people were more excited as they would be given generous compensation for their land as well as new houses. In addition, the deepwater port project, right from its construction to its operation, would bring this remote, small fishing village countless opportunities and a good life.

To encourage villagers to relocate, China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd. (CHEC) – the Chinese company contracted to build the port – explained the benefits of the project to the villagers and promised to build roads that would connect the new village they would be relocated to with the port and surrounding main roads to facilitate their travels. Persuaded by the benefits, the village elders finally agreed to relocate for a better life.

After relocation, the villagers found the project would bring them opportunities in the form of new jobs.

The seaside scenery

At first, they were worried about the differences in work culture, language and skills. But the generous wages and convenient commuting conditions finally won them over. The jobs changed their life beyond expectations.

To help local employees better integrate into the company and grow, CHEC established an effective people management system in accordance with local laws and customs, and offered individually-tailored skills and language training to all employees.

Bruce is a warehouse clerk at the port. When he took up his job at the warehouse, he was forced to spend most of the day trying to locate the materials on the requirement list because there were various types of construction tools and equipment, and he, a French speaker, was not proficient in English and Chinese and reading labels was difficult.

To help Bruce, a technician in the project department printed out a list of the terms and materials in French, Chinese and English for him, and talked to him in English and Chinese at and outside work to improve his language skills. With the help, Bruce is now fluent in Chinese and English and works at the project management department. And he now knows where everything is kept in the warehouse and what they are meant for.

More than 2,000 locals joined in the construction of the Kribi Deepwater Port and grew with the port in the three years. They learned engineering skills such as machinery operation, steel bar rolling, template support, concrete mixing and maintenance, and accumulated mature management experience. Like the Kribi Deepwater Port, they became the backbone of local development with the acquisition of greater skills and stable jobs.

The newly-built Kribi Deepwater Port

The completed port has stimulated local economic development. Today, the streets bustle with people and cars, the marketplace is busy, and life is better and more colorful. It seems inconceivable that a few years ago this lively town was a backward fishing village.

Tripartite Cooperation Leads to Results

Cameroon has an advantageous geographical location. It is an important seaport for landlocked African countries such as Central African Republic and Chad. The Port of Douala used to account for more than 95 percent of Cameroon's international sea cargo throughput. However, since it is a river port, a 50-kilometer artificial channel had to be built to connect it with to the sea, and cargo ships need to pass through the channel to go to sea or return to the port. Moreover, the channel has to be dredged every year, which costs a large amount of money. Besides, the port, with its shallow waters, cannot accommodate large ships. Therefore, it could not meet the growing import and export needs of Cameroon and its neighboring inland countries.

Back in the 1970s, Cameroon began to plan a new deepwater port and started a feasibility study. However, there was little progress due to various domestic as well as external factors. But a modern new port became feasible with the mutually-beneficial and pragmatic China-Cameroon cooperation under the frameworks of the Belt and Road Initiative and the China-Africa Cooperation Forum. CHEC agreed to build this major project for Cameroon.

Today, a modern deepwater port with a 40,000-ton and a 50,000ton berth stands on the Atlantic coast, welcoming and seeing off large ships every day.

Container crane operator Freeh got off his crane and pointed proudly to a nearby cargo ship that he had unloaded. It would be very difficult for the 10,000-ton cargo ship to berth at the Port of Douala, let alone load or unload. But at the Kribi Port, he could complete the whole unloading process quickly and skillfully.

Like many Cameroonians, Freeh is fascinated by kungfu, the Chinese martial art that integrates the best principles of different schools of martial arts and makes those who master it invincible. When he got to know that the Kribi Deepwater Port would be run by companies from China, Cameroon and France, he immediately signed up as one of the first container crane operators, confident that the port would bring victory for the three countries, just like kungfu.

CHEC took the initiative to bring French transportation companies Bolloré and CMA CGM as well as Cameroonian enterprises on board to jointly operate the port to make the project sustainable. Bolloré operates and manages the port while CMA CGM ensures traffic volume on its shipping routes. The Cameroonian enterprises handle social image-related and local affairs, and CHEC assists with investment and financing. The tripartite cooperation has led to joint operation and a win-win situation with shared results, which has vitalized this large-scale project.

Freeh remembers when the first container ship CMA CGM Bianca from France arrived at the port, he waved his arms excitedly to welcome the huge ship, because he knew that the crane he was operating carried not only cargo but also the future of the port.

Freeh's thoughts were interrupted by a loud whistle as another container ship slowly entered the port. He returned to work, buoyed by the thought of a happy future lying ahead, ensured by hard work.

The Kribi Deepwater Port busy at night

Economic Takeoff

The Kribi Deepwater Port has solved the problem of low efficiency in the Port of Douala and greatly improved Cameroon's container throughput. Since the port became operational in 2018, the results have been remarkable. It provides convenient access to the sea for central and west African countries, and is expected to become an international entrepôt and a comprehensive hub for sub-regional countries.

As its operating model improves, the port has promoted transportation and nfrastructure in surrounding areas, such as roads, aviation and power grids. A number of key projects including a KribiPort logistics park, a port-access highway project, an industrial park and an eco-city are underway. A regional economic circle with the port as its core has taken shape, enhancing sub-regional connectivity.

Building a port boosts a city, and the two grow together. A large number of logistics and industrial processing companies have set up factories in the hinterland of the port or are in the process of doing so. Driving from the port to downtown Kribi, you will see new factories and warehouses instead of the uninhabited area in the past. Cocoa and board processing plants are under construction, while many large furniture and paper making companies have signed letters of intent to invest in the Kribi Port Industrial Park.

The Kribi Deepwater Port

These industries have provided more employment opportunities for the local people and promoted tourism, catering and other services in surrounding areas, contributing to the transformation of the local industrial structure and technological upgrading. They have brought tangible economic benefits to the Cameroonian Government. Since the port started operation, the local government has received more than USD100 million in financial revenue alone, besides revenue from other services.

Given the rich iron ore deposits in Cameroon's borders with Gabon and Congo (Brazzaville), the port management plans to stimulate iron ore, cement, petrochemical and other industries by developing the port into a transshipment hub first and then boosting construction of a harbor industrial area and city. With stronger connectivity and capacity cooperation, it will promote the economic takeoff of Kribi and even Cameroon, and drive the economic development of the Gulf of Guinea region and Central Africa.

Robert is a Kribi fisherman who has confidence in and holds great expectation for the future of the Kribi Deepwater Port. He and his partner were shrimping in the sea and his partner blew a whistle to indicate it was time to draw in the fishing net. As they hauled up the full net inch by inch, the two men looked at the shrimps bobbing in it and smiled at each other in satisfaction. Another good catch day!

These shrimps, found only in the sea around Kribi, are a delicacy in Cameroon. In the past, Robert had to take his catch to the distant market to sell it. The long transportation made the shrimps lose their freshness, resulting in poor sales and low earnings, which made his life difficult. For this reason, he didn't want his son to be a fisherman like him.

But after the port started operation, Kribi has become more famous. Consumer demand has grown as tourists come in an endless stream and companies and shops have grown around the port. As a local delicacy, Kribi shrimps are often in short supply. Now Robert's shrimps sell out soon after he returns to land. On some days, when some restaurant owners urge him for shrimps after everything has sold out, he has to go fishing again. At the Lolabé Waterfalls, now a famous local attraction, visitors enjoy the beautiful scenery over refreshing beer served with a platter of delicious shrimps. The good food adds to Kribi's charms.

Robert, who has been shrimping for half of his life, has finally realized the value of his skill. He now says that when he saves enough money, he will buy a bigger boat, take his son shrimping, and teach him the skill.

The Lolabé Waterfalls flowing into the sea

One of the landmark projects of China-Cameroon cooperation, the Kribi Deepwater Port has brought tangible benefits and opportunities to the local people. And more dreams are coming true with Phase II of the project, bigger than its predecessor.

The port is highly praised by the local people and the Cameroonian Government as it brings economic benefits and also demonstrates the strength of the mutually-beneficial cooperation between China and Cameroon and between China and Africa under the Belt and Road Initiative framework. The locals believe the port will boost the development of Kribi and entire Cameroon, creating an even brighter future for all of them.


Project Overview

The Kribi Deepwater Port project was built by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). The Phase I terminal, 670 meters in length, consists of a 40,000-ton multi-purpose berth and a 50,000-ton container berth, as well as supporting facilities such as breakwaters, channel and harbor basin dredging, and loading and unloading equipment. The Phase II terminal, 715 meters long, includes a 70,000-ton container berth and a 100,000-ton container berth. The Kribi Deepwater Port is the largest port in Cameroon, playing a key role in shipping and import and export trade in the Central African sub-region and the Gulf of Guinea.

The consortium of CHEC, Bolloré, CMA CGM and local Cameroonian companies won a 25-year concession contract to manage the Kribi Deepwater Port. The port officially opened in March 2018, and had completed 210,000 TEUs by July 2019. The management paid the local government about EUR100 million (USD117.3 million) in concession fees. The total amount of concession fees in the 25-year period is estimated to reach EUR1.6 billion (USD1.8 billion) and the income tax EUR300 million (USD338 million). Five shipping companies, including Maersk, CMA CGM and NDS, berth at the Kribi Deepwater Port.