Cote d'Ivoire revamps infrastructure in transport sector to support economic growth

After missing out on needed maintenance and expansion work over the past decade, Côte d’Ivoire’s transport infrastructure is receiving some overdue attention. Expansion of transport networks across the country has become imperative, with a headline growth rate of 8.4% in 2016 and increasing urbanisation putting pressure on existing networks. Increased congestion, from both higher domestic and international trading, is putting added strain on roads, ports and railroad systems.

The country still enjoys several critical advantages, including an extensive, if aged, paved road network, competitive port infrastructure through which to export its natural resources, and a revamped aviation sector that is positioning the country as a regional aviation hub for West Africa.

However, recent reforms have bolstered the transport sector’s physical infrastructure, including the growing use of the public-private partnerships (PPPs) as a means to attract private financing and management into strategic infrastructure such as ports, airports and land transport routes.

This is set to accelerate over the coming years, with authorities working on 21 PPP projects for the transport sector as of 2015, according to Côte d’ Ivoire’s National Committee for the Management of PPPs. The PPP ventures are part of a larger National Development Plan, which is set to channel €44.2bn into large-scale projects to be implemented during the 2016-20 period. For the sector in particular, these projects are expected to strengthen the backbone of the country’s transport and logistics networks for the coming decades.

Easing Trade

While the country’s transport networks are among the most used and most extensive in the region, Côte d’Ivoire still grapples with a number of problems that are endemic to West Africa. The World Bank’s “Doing Business 2017” report ranked the country 150 out of 190 economies in its index for ease of trading across borders. This places the country below regional neighbours Benin, which stood at 133rd, Burkina Faso at 104th and Senegal at 130st, but above the region’s largest economy, Nigeria, which ranked 181st, and Ghana, which ranked 151st. However, the country is making progress. One key step it has taken to improve ease of trading was to establish a one-stop window for import procedures, which has helped cut the time it takes for businesses to fulfil all the documentation requirements for trade.

These sorts of reforms have steadily improved the sector’s performance, although it still lags behind that of advanced economies. According to 2017 figures from the “Doing Business 2017” report, the cost of exporting a container in terms of border compliance is $387, compared to an average of $383 for sub-Saharan countries.

Côte d’Ivoire’s export costs are lower than in neighbouring Ghana, where it cost an average of $490 to export a container in 2017, and in Senegal, where it reached $552. Continuing to bring these costs down while maintaining a steady pace of economic growth will be an important balancing act for the Ivorian authorities.

Road Links

Roads are a critical component of Côte d’Ivoire’s transport infrastructure – handling more than 99% of total internal freight movements – and over the course of several decades, the country has been able to establish one of the largest road networks in West Africa.

However, as in so many regional economies, maintenance and expansion have lagged, particularly over the first part of the past decade, when unrest brought public capital expenditures to a halt. This is now being reversed, with a combination of public investment, financing from international partners, and the participation of the private sector. Between 2011 and 2015, total investment on transport infrastructure has reached $2bn, according to the World Bank, and land transport networks are a preferred recipient of these funds.

The road network currently stretches 82,000 km, with 6500 km of paved roads as of 2015. Besides being important to the domestic economy, Côte d’Ivoire’s transport infrastructure is also a key element of economic expansion in neighbouring landlocked countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso, which channel their imports and exports through it.

The Abidjan-to-Ougadougou transport corridor, in particular, has become an essential transport route, connecting the capital of Burkina Faso and part of its central and northern areas with the West African Atlantic coast. The link extends for 1189 km, and is served by both road and railway, with road transport in the corridor accounting for 75% of freight and rail accounting for the rest as of September 2016, according to the World Bank. The corridor also handles 35% of Burkina Faso’s international trade, making it a strategic source of development for both countries, and therefore the target of major transport infrastructure improvement plans.

The World Bank, for example, is currently implementing a €100m project to improve transport conditions along the passageway. The financing will be used to reduce transportation costs for goods travelling between the two countries, with a focus on enhancing Customs procedures at the border, cutting handling costs at the port of Abidjan, as well as a revamping of trucking business operations linking the two countries.

An ambitious revamp and expansion programme is set to channel €5.7bn towards road development between 2016 and 2020. One key project will be the 106-km expansion of the Northern Highway, which already connects Abidjan to Yamoussoukro, and all the way to Bouaké. Financing has also been secured for a series of revamping works to be carried out on around 400km of rural roads by the French Development Agency (Agence Française de Dé veloppement, AFD), which is set to allocate €190m for road maintenance in the country (see analysis).

Improving The Market

As in other West African markets, the road transport sector in Côte d’Ivoire remains weighed down by informality and fragmentation, with a large number of small trucking operations competing through lower prices. The immediate impact is the insufficient financial capacity of operators to renew their transport fleet, excessive loading of vehicles to improve margins and the consequent negative impact on safety and degredation of infrastructure.

In a recent report on Côte d’Ivoire’s transport sector, the World Bank stated that “a combination of increasingly deficient infrastructure, inadequate regulations and market distortions have created a large gap between prices and costs in the provision of transport services and an environment not conducive to sectoral investments”. The sector is also negatively affected by the difficulty of finding return cargo to help cover operational costs on some of the country’s domestic routes. Transport sector reform has been a government priority since 2012, with authorities starting to implement measures to promote formalisation and fleet renewal.

Rail

As an alternative to increasingly busy roads, and in order to lower the costs of transporting goods across the country’s borders, a handful of railway renovation and expansion projects are helping to diversify freight options. A key element will be the much-needed refurbishment of the 1260-km railway line between Côte d’Ivoire and neighbouring Burkina Faso. In September 2016 the collapse of a 250-metre bridge built in 1910 over the Nzi river in Côte d’Ivoire led to the interruption of the railway connection between the two countries for several days.

The railway currently has a yearly traffic of 300,000 passengers and 900,000 tonnes of freight. However, rehabilitation is expected to take total annual capacity to 2m passengers and 5m tonnes of cargo, according to government figures published in local media. The link, managed by Sitirail, part of the Bolloré Group, runs all the way from Abidjan to the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, and from then on to Kaya, further north.

A regional railway project is set to extend the railway line all the way to the north-eastern city of Tambao, where it will service a large-scale manganese mining operation. Extension work is being done under a consortium which includes Pan African Minerals and Bolloré, as well as the governments of Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire.

Renovation work is also set to begin on an 852-km section of the network, under a recently signed renovation and concession deal between Sitirail and the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. It is expected to cost an estimated €400m. Rolling stock is also in the process of being updated. Four new locomotives were recently acquired to serve the line and Sitirail was adding 100 new railway wagons to improve service provision.

Given that transit activity accounts for a large proportion of rail activity in Cote d’Ivoire, a similar rail project – one that should help boost the country’s ability to serve as a gateway to the subregion — is also on the cards. In October 2016 the Ivorian state signed a deal with Italian State Railways for the development of a 1000-km railway link between the Ivorian port of San Pedro and the Malian capital of Bamako, helping to ease traffic between the landlocked country and international markets through Côte d’Ivoire’s second port.

Ports

The combination of renewed stability and fast economic expansion are helping to re-establish the status of the Port of Abidjan as a gateway to the landlocked countries beyond – a status that had diminished during the years of unrest as Ghana’s Port of Tema took a bigger role in regional shipments. The country’s biggest maritime trade asset, the port handled 21.9m total tonnes of cargo in 2015, a 5.3% increase on 2014 numbers, according to figures provided by the Port Autonome d’Abidjan. During the same period, the number of containers it handled went from 612,410 to 640,863.

The port is also gradually re-establishing itself as a preferred commerce gateway for the landlocked countries of West Africa. Of its total handled cargo of 21.9m tonnes in 2015, up to 2.3m tonnes accounted for transit cargo into other countries, compared to 1.8m tonnes in 2013. Of these, 1.4m were accounted for by commerce with neighbouring Burkina Faso, followed by Mali with 839,092 tonnes and Niger with 45,105 tonnes.

An additional 7612 tonnes of cargo moved to and from other neighbouring countries. “Cote d’Ivoire is probably one of the few countries where import and export traffic is almost balanced, which makes it a very interesting port for maritime transporters, because they do not need to manage empty containers,” François Egon, sales and marketing director at Bolloré Africa Logistics, told OBG.

The port of Abidjan has been losing ground as a trans-shipment point, however, with the total cargo going from 2.9m tonnes in 2013 to 1.4m tonnes in 2015, and the number of handled containers falling from 117,283 to 39,723 over the same period of time. Authorities hope to reverse that trend with the ongoing $2bn expansion work taking place at the facility. The project, which is set to be finalised in 2018, will expand the Vridi access canal in order to allow for bigger vessels to dock, and also includes plans for the construction of a new container handling terminal, which will extend handling capacity from 800,000 containers annually to an estimated 2m containers when complete (see analysis).

Equally pivotal for economic recovery has been the Autonomous Port of San Pedro, in the country’s southwest coast. Long essential for agricultural exports, namely cocoa, the Port of San Pedro has been undergoing expansion work to enable it to handle Côte d’Ivoire’s growing mineral exports and upstream oil sector.

The project includes the building of a 50,000 tonne refined fuel terminal, a new €395m container handling terminal to be built under a PPP concession agreement and logistics zones (see analysis). Between 2011 and 2015 the volume of traffic passing through the facility rose from 1.8m tonnes to 5m tonnes.

Procedural Reform

Beginning in 2015 liberalisation of handling services at the Abidjan port has allowed for the opening up of transport of containers in and out of the port for companies other than accredited maritime transporters. The measure was viewed as a mechanism to further reduce handling and operating prices at the port.

Market operators in the country are still waiting to see the full impact of the new measure on the port infrastructure. “This will bring prices down, but it might reduce the level of service and potentially increase the level of confusion at the port,” Egon told OBG. “It might create difficulties by allowing into the port some trucks that are sometimes in terrible state, so this might bring prices down without necessarily improving the level of service. It will, however, create a more competitive dynamic.”

Air

The country is well equipped in the aviation segment, with two international airports (in Abidjan and Bouaké) and five domestic facilities, although an acute decrease in passenger figures during the conflict years helped lead to a slowdown in the Ivorian aviation sector. Abidjan’s Félix Houphouë tBoigny Airport, the country’s largest, has long had a major regional role, and the country’s return to normality over the past couple of years has been driving passenger numbers upwards.

Annual passenger figures increased from 1.2m to more than 1.5m between 2013 and 2015, and were expected to reach as much as 1.7m by the end of 2016, according to figures by Aeria, the airport’s operator, which has a concession agreement until 2029. Traffic influx at Abidjan’s airport remains largely influenced by the arrival of Ivorians living abroad, which creates a high season between mid-June an mid-September. “Numerous foreign aviation authorities are contacting Côte d’Ivoire in order to revise their bilateral aviation agreements,” Sinaly Silué, CEO of Autorité Nationale de l’Aviation Civile, told OBG. “This is a sign that international airlines want to start coming back.”

Infrastructure

Rising passenger figures have strengthened the economic rationale for expansion of current facilities and operational improvements. A CFA41bn (€61.5m) investment plan for the 2015-20 period is currently under way, by Aeria. The facility’s operator has been adapting passenger flow in the now over 40-year-old Félix Houphouët-Boigny Airport to the new security requirements.

Although the airport has a built-in capacity of 2m passengers, a feasibility study is currently under way to evaluate an extension project for the international terminal. If growth figures continue their upward trend, full capacity is expected to be reached by as soon as 2020. As such, several expansion projects are under implementation at airport. Recently completed was the revamp of the terminal’s restaurant and retail areas, with the inclusion of a new business lounge and new border police posts.

More importantly, the construction of a 2400-metre taxiway will allow for the improvement of operational efficiency, by getting airplanes off the runway after they land or before taking off. The tender for the construction of the taxiway will be launched in 2017. Revamp work will also include the addition of 10 new airplane parking spots, taking the total to 27. Although the current figures for air freight going through Abidjan remain small, at about 22,000 tonnes per year according to 2016 estimates by Aeria. A new cargo terminal is also under construction, though the completion deadline was uncertain as of January 2017.

Aerocite

As part of the airport’s general overhaul, a new 3500-ha development is being built next to the Abidjan airport to encourage the growth of commercial and industrial activity in the adjoining areas — similar to initiatives currently under way in Ghana, Egypt and Qatar. The expectation is that the development will help transform the airport into an engine for economic growth.

The new Aérocité, or airport city, is estimated by the government to cost up to €134m, and will include residential, commercial and industrial areas, as well sports complexes and an exhibition centre for international events. The development will be built and managed under a PPP agreement, although a concrete timeline for the beginning of construction was still to be defined as of January 2017. Authorities are also planning for the construction of a new international airport in San Pedro. The timeframe for the project, which the Ministry of Transport has estimated will cost up to CFA45bn (€67.5m), has not been specified. The goal of the new facility is to expand the city’s economic potential – given that it serves as a major agricultural and mining export point – as well as develop the region’s opportunities for tourism.

Competition

Besides undergoing investment in infrastructure, the air sector is also benefiting from the expansion of Air Côte d’Ivoire. The national airline was created in 2012, replacing former flag carrier Air Ivoire after the latter became insolvent as a result of the post-electoral crisis.

The new airline currently has a fleet of 10 airplanes, the majority of which are short- to midrange Airbus models. Focusing on developing a hub strategy for the region, the company serviced 22 destinations regionally and five domestic destinations at the end of 2016, boasting an occupancy rate of 70% on most regional flights. “We have two waves per day: one wave is the traffic coming from West Africa, going into Central Africa, and another wave is made up of passengers coming from Central Africa onwards to Western Africa,” René Decurey, managing director at Air Côte d’Ivoire, told OBG. “This obviously increases the opportunities to make more flights, compared to before when only a few flights were justified. The more flights you create, the more traffic you attract.”

Political stability and fast growth rates are bringing a rising number of airlines to service Abidjan, with as many as 20 operating flights to and from Côte d’Ivoire’s main airport as of September 2016.

Urban Connectivity

With an urbanisation rate of nearly 4% and increasing congestion on major thoroughfares around the country’s primary port and airport, a number of urban transit updates are also taking place in Abidjan. Due to its placement around the Ebrié lagoon, the city is spread across a series of islands and peninsulas, making transit between the city’s business district and the southern neighbourhoods across the lagoon difficult.

City Life

A series of speedways and bridges have helped the city’s inhabitants to navigate the challenging geography, although limited options across the lagoon – with just two bridges – have long compounded congestion problems. However, the recently completed CFA125bn (€187.5m) Henri Konan Bédié Bridge, opened in late 2014 as a third option across the lagoon, has helped alleviate travel times through some of the city’s most congested neighbourhoods, including the districts of Marcory and Rivieira. Furthermore, another cross-lagoon link, the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Bridge, which stretches between the city’s port and industrial areas and the business district of Plateau, is set to undergo an CFA26.2bn (€39.3m) overhaul.

Transport across the lagoon is also being improved through a process of liberalisation and investment. Preparing for the opening up of the market for lagoon transport services in 2016, which used to be solely in the hands of the state-owned Société des Transports Abidjanais, the public company announced an investment plan of CFA7.5bn (€11.3m) to go towards a new fleet of buses and boats, as well as the construction of new bus terminals and docks to complete its network.

Public transport across the lagoon will also get a significant boost from new service providers. An Ivorian-Turkish joint venture Rainbow Ferry Lines, back by the local Snedai Group and Turkish conglomerate Yildirim Group, announced in 2015 plans to invest CFA20bn (€30m) on 45 new bus-boats and the establishment of 12 new quays on which to base its routes along the lagoon, according to international media reports. Developing the city’s waterways for urban transport should prove key in reducing congestion, as 10 of the city’s 13 municipalities or communes have waterfront access.

Despite some delays, government plans to build a light-rail commuter train line to support public transport across the city are advancing, and authorities expect to have the system up and running by 2020. The project is being developed by a consortium made up of France-based contractor Bouygues, and Korean firms Hyundai and Dongsan Engineering. In mid-2015 €40 worth of financing for initial studies was secured for the project. According to recent estimates by the government, the system will be able to carry 300,000 daily commuters, helping to reduce traffic within the city. The 37-km system is expected to link Anyama, in the north, to the southern area of Port-Bouët, and use part of the stations and infrastructure of the existing Abidjan to Ouagadougou train line. Government estimates put the total cost of the line at close to €1bn.

Outlook

Ongoing revamp efforts taking place in the country’s main infrastructure networks will have a long-term impact on the sector’s development. The PPP model is proving to be an important tool to secure financing and expertise. However, ensuring that different modes of transport can be efficiently combined to move freight within Côte d’Ivoire, and between the country and international markets, will be necessary in order to reduce transport costs and facilitate business operations.

Road transport is set to remain a central element of freight transportation in Côte d’Ivoire, as are efforts to further reform the sector. Ongoing expansion work taking place in the air and maritime infrastructure is expected to be sufficient to support growth efforts and ensure necessary capacity, although maintaining competitive levels of service will also be critical to ensuring the strong positioning of the country as a regional transport centre.

 

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The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2017

Transport chapter from The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2017