Broad-based boost: Upgrades and extensions will push infrastructure into a new phase

In the decades following independence in 1960, Côte d’Ivoire led West Africa in terms of transport infrastructure. Today, although several years of civil unrest have taken their toll, it still has one of the largest road networks in the region, as well as relatively competitive aviation and maritime port infrastructure.

In the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index 2014, which analyses transport data on 160 countries, Côte d’Ivoire scores 2.62 out of 5, above the average for sub-Saharan Africa (2.41) and lower-middle-income countries (2.56). Among West African countries, it ranks second highest at 79th, behind Nigeria’s 75th. As the government pushes to attain emerging country status by 2020, the nation’s transport networks are set for a boost in public funding: out of the CFA11trn (€16.5bn) budgeted in the 2012-15 National Development Plan (Plan National de Développement, PND), the state has allocated 25.5% to projects in transport infrastructure.

Roads

As in many African markets, the bulk of domestic trade is transported via roads. Just as crucial given Côte d’Ivoire’s role as a regional transit point, however, is the road network’s role in channelling goods from the country’s landlocked neighbours to its seaports.

Heavy investment in infrastructure up to the 1980s has made the nation’s road system one of the largest and densest in West Africa. According to the Road Management Agency (Agence de Gestion des Routes, Ageroute), the network comprises some 6514 km of paved roads and 75,482 km of unpaved ones. With a density of 25 km of road for each 100 sq km of land, it makes up about half of all roads in the West African Economic and Monetary Union, and plays key role in facilitating regional trade.

While its size is a key advantage, the network is badly in disrepair due to decades of insufficient maintenance. For this reason, the PND puts special emphasis on refurbishing and extending the road system, committing CFA2.8trn (€4.2bn) to transport over four years.

Maintenance

Two entities, Ageroute and the Road Maintenance Fund (Fonds d’Entretien Routier, FER), are jointly responsible for the upkeep of the road network. Ageroute is charged with monitoring road quality and implementing repairs, while the FER’s role is to manage and disburse funds for maintenance.

Lack of coordination between the two agencies, however, has resulted in poor follow-through on road projects, as well as difficulty in paying contractors. According to Ageroute, an estimated 75% of the paved road network currently exceeds its 15-year intended lifespan, with some routes as old as 35 years. Fully 20% of the country’s 27,482 km of dirt roads have deteriorated to the point of being unusable, while another 26% are thought to be severely degraded, limiting drivers’ average speed to 35 km per hour.

Long-term neglect of the road network is mainly due to the perennial underfunding of the FER. In theory, the fund receives a portion of the CFA25 (€0.04) tax per litre of petrol; in practice, however, other state priorities – such as the wage bill and, more recently, investments in social housing and health care – often absorb much of these revenues, leaving little for road maintenance. Allocations to the FER are not mandated by law and thus subject to the fluctuating availability of funds.

Funding

To supplement the FER’s income, the government introduced a toll system on the newly extended sections of the highway network, notably the stretch between Abidjan and Yamoussoukro. Introduction initially faced delays, but eventually launched in May 2014.

While the FER was awaiting the contributions of the toll system, and in order to make up for any budget shortfalls, it has also made use of credit. To fund the state’s large-scale road refurbishment strategy, the FER has secured loans totalling CFA130bn (€195m) from an array of banks, including Ecobank, the United Bank for Africa, Société Générale, Bank of Africa, Attijariwafa Group - Société Ivoirienne de Banque, BNP Paribas and BGFI. To pay back this debt, the FER is counting on future revenues from fuel taxes and tolls. This may prove difficult if its budget remains at the current level and if the implementation of future toll systems face delays.

Additional funding comes from a debt reduction contract the government has signed with the French Development Agency in the amount of €152m. The government has also signed a memorandum with the National Highway Company of Morocco for technical support on the 1500 km of planned construction.

Highway Projects

Built around the Ebrié lagoon, the country’s economic capital of Abidjan is spread across several peninsulas and islands. For a long time, there were only two bridges linking “Le Plateau”, the central business district, to its southern neighbourhoods (and the airport) across the lagoon.

One of Abidjan’s most visible infrastructure projects of recent years has been a 6.4-km urban highway linking the city’s northern and southern halves via a third bridge over the lagoon. The new Henri Konan Bédié Bridge, which opened to traffic in December 2014, connects the northern suburb of Riviera to the bustling central neighbourhood of Marcory and provides a long-overdue alternative route for crossing the city. A 30-year concession to operate the bridge was awarded to Socoprim, a consortium led by the French company Bouygues (49%) in which the Ivorian state is a minority shareholder (18.65%). The 1.5-km bridge, which cost an estimated €192m, has been set up to generate revenues via a toll system. Also part of the urban highway project is the new Valéry Giscard d’Estaing interchange in Marcory, likewise completed in December 2014.

Plans are also under way to rehabilitate the principal arteries that join Abidjan to Liberia, Ghana and Burkina Faso – including the southern highway, which also links the country’s two ports. The western road, which connects Côte d’Ivoire’s second port city of San Pédro to Man and Odienne, is to be refurbished and extended to the border with Mali. With this complete, San Pédro’s port would be a prime candidate for handling and exporting goods from the Malian capital of Bamako and Guinea’s Forest Region. This initiative complements the San Pédro port expansions and would help develop a second pole of commercial activity in the west.

To the north, extension of the highway connecting Abidjan to the political capital of Yamoussoukro was finished in late 2013. The price tag for the four-lane highway, which reduced travel time between the two cities to a few hours, was CFA136bn (€204m), funded 42% by the Ivorian state, 15% by private investors, and 43% by a donor consortium composed of the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, the Islamic Development Bank, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, the Saudi Fund for Development and the OPEC Fund for International Development.

Freight Transport

Reform of the freight sector is also essential to enhancing the country’s logistics. As in most of Africa, the country’s land transport sector is fragmented and largely informal. Small operations compete at rock-bottom prices, regularly overloading their trucks to squeeze out a marginal profit. Such practices have arisen in an environment where the costs of non-tariff barriers, congestion and poor infrastructure can be high. Routine disregard for per-axle weight limits also causes roads to deteriorate prematurely. As most operators barely earn enough to cover basic operating costs, they are unable to invest in maintaining their fleet, upgrading equipment or training staff.

“As a general rule, companies in Côte d’Ivoire, even in the industrial sector, integrate transport into their business; it’s not something that is contracted out,” Olivier Delsuc, director of operations at transport firm Les Centaures Routiers, told OBG. “For most transporters, logistics is not a profession so much as a means of transporting their own products.” It is similar for fully-fledged firms. “Even for a freight company with a parking lot, on-the-books employees and a well-maintained fleet, the market in Côte d’Ivoire is still very limited,” Delsuc said, “There is no hub system: when we invoice a client for transport, we bill the round trip because we know the truck will return empty. There isn’t enough merchandise in circulation, which keeps prices high.”

Given the low level of formal organisation, transporters have a hard time obtaining credit. Attempts to organise into a professional association, of the kind that might enable collective action, have been unsuccessful. To bring small companies into the formal sector, overhauling the transport code will be essential, and rules on maximum truckloads must be better enforced. The government is making efforts in this area, having announced a penalty structure for overloaded trucks in tandem with the introduction of a highway toll system. The move has, however, met strong resistance from transporters, making implementation difficult.

Regional Rail

To alleviate road congestion, reduce shipping costs and raise trade volumes, work is under way to rehabilitate the regional rail network. One project is set to refurbish and extend the 1260-km rail connection between Abidjan and the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou. With the first stretch running to Kaya, this line will later be extended to Tambao, near the borders with Mali and Niger – the site of a lucrative manganese mine. Construction of the line and operation of the manganese shipments will be managed by a consortium made up of Pan African Minerals (55%), the French company Bolloré (25%) and the governments of Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire (10% each). Bolloré currently operates the existing Abidjan-Ouagadougou line via its subsidiary, Sitarail.

A second planned project is to build a 737-km rail link between San Pédro and the inland city of Man, thus joining the country’s mineral-rich western hinterland with its coastal ports. At an estimated cost of CFA870bn (€1.3bn), the rail link would help develop inter-regional trade, especially for nickel, iron and manganese ore as the country pushes to raise the contribution of mining from 1.5% of GDP to 10% by 2020.

Maritime Ports

Following the downturn in transit and trans-shipment activity during the civil unrest of 2010-11, the state-run Autonomous Port of Abidjan (Port Autonome d’Abidjan, PAA) is regaining its place as one of West Africa’s principal maritime centres. Thanks to Côte d’Ivoire’s broader economic recovery – and as Abidjan’s main competitor, Ghana’s Tema port, faces significant capacity challenges – shipping firms are gradually shifting regional traffic back to PAA (see analysis). Though the port’s overall traffic fell by 1% from 2012 to 2013, this may be explained primarily by a reduction in petroleum imports: general merchandise traffic rose by 4% over that period.

To attract more traffic, the PAA has signed a 21-year concession with a consortium – made up of APM Terminals (a part of Maersk Group), Bolloré Africa Logistics and Bouygues – to build and operate a second container terminal, adding to the existing one it operates. A related project to expand the Vridi Canal, the port’s sole access point, will allow larger vessels to enter by raising the maximum draught to 15 metres.

In the west, a similar spate of activity has been launched at the Autonomous Port of San Pédro (Port Autonome de San Pédro, PASP). With roughly 2.9m tonnes of trans-shipment traffic in 2013, PASP has served as the chief port for Côte d’Ivoire’s crucial agricultural exports, and has long been one of the world’s largest ports for cocoa. In recent years, it has also sought to tap into the expansion of Côte d’Ivoire’s upstream oil and mineral sectors, having launched a range of investments to build new terminals for refined fuel and minerals (see analysis). These new units will enable PASP to serve the growing offshore oil and gas industry, aid the exploitation of iron and nickel reserves in western Côte d’Ivoire, and benefit from the manganese boom in Burkina Faso and Mali.

Aviation

In the aviation sector, Côte d’Ivoire’s central location and recovering economy once again make Félix Houphouët-Boigny Airport a strong contender for West Africa’s primary aviation centre, a position it held securely during the 1960s and 1970s. Having lost nearly half of its annual passenger traffic during the years of unrest, Abidjan’s airport has made a rapid recovery, with traffic jumping from 647,000 passengers in 2011 to 1.2m in 2013. While airport traffic is predominantly business travellers, the summer months of 2013 also saw an uptick in flights from deals marketed to the Ivorian diaspora, indicating potential for a future tourist market. Passenger flows are expected to reach 1.4m for 2014, surpassing their pre-conflict peak.

Taking Off

The airport is not without regional competition. While the largest volume of passengers in West Africa is handled by Nigeria’s Lagos Murtala Mohammed Airport, Abidjan’s chief competitor is Ghana’s airport in Accra, which picked up much of the market share Abidjan lost during the civil crisis. In 2014, Abidjan served 1.3m international passengers, which although lower than the 1.4m predicted, is still considered good performance given the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and a major strike by Air France.

By increasing demand, the brightening outlook for economic growth will help provide a broad-based boost for the domestic aviation industry. Specific events could also have an outsized impact: the planned return of the African Development Bank (AfDB) to Abidjan, for example, is likely to draw in more regional and continental flights to the city. “The AfDB today has roughly 3500 associates, and these are individuals who travel a significant amount all over the continent, as well as to Europe and the US,” Jean-François Cottel, administrative and financial director of Aéria, the airport concessionaire, told OBG. “Additionally, the AfDB is a centre of interest in itself, which will draw air traffic to Abidjan as people come to do business with the bank.”

Infrastructure

Following a renovation in 2001, Abidjan’s airport infrastructure is fairly well developed. Managed since 1996 by Aéria, a subsidiary of the French firm Egis, the airport is currently receiving upgrades to better accommodate 516-seat Airbus A380s. Air France flew its first A380 flight from Paris to Abidjan in January 2014 and has been running three flights a week between the two cities since October. Paris-Abidjan airline traffic grew 8% in 2014, to more than 269,000, which is comparable to the peak years of 2006-09, according to industry news portal RoutesOnline.

A $30m expansion and upgrade to the cargo terminal, financed by the Islamic Development Bank and being carried out by Egypt’s Arab Contractors, is scheduled for completion in 2015. This should attract new investment in the air freight sector, which grew 6.7% in 2013. While Abidjan currently hosts the country’s only international airport, plans are also under way to upgrade the domestic air infrastructure, including rehabilitation of airports in Yamoussoukro and Bouaké.

Airport Security

Sector authorities are aiming to get the airport certified by both the US Transportation Security Administration and the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), according to Sinaly Silué, director-general of the National Authority for Civil Aviation. This would allow direct flights to destinations such as Washington, D.C. “Complying with ICAO standards and best practices is a prerequisite for any airport seeking global recognition, and here the Abidjan airport has done a fairly good job,” Silué told OBG. “In terms of safety and security, it is recognised as one of the most efficient in Africa. The authorities have put in a lot of effort in recent years to reach international standards.”

National Airline

National carrier Air Côte d’Ivoire (ACI) – launched in 2012 as a replacement for Air Ivoire, which went bankrupt after the post-electoral crisis – grew steadily during its first year of operation, with a turnover of CFA28bn (€42m) in 2013, and occupancy rates reaching 70% near the end of that year. Though data were unavailable for 2014, ACI had set targets of 450,000 passengers and CFA52bn (€78m) in revenues. Owned by the Ivorian state (65%), Air France (20%) and private investors (15%), the airline accounts for more than a quarter of passenger traffic at Abidjan’s airport.

According to its managing director, René Decurey, ACI’s strategy is to increase direct flights to regional cities to transform Abidjan into a regional hub. Its main competitor in this regard – Asky, based out of Lomé, in Togo – currently flies to 20 countries in West and Central Africa. ACI’s current fleet consists of three Airbus A319s and an Embraer 170 for regional flights, and two new Bombardier Q400s for domestic routes. The Q400s were purchased in 2014 for $120m, financed by a $114m loan from Cairo-based African Export-Import Bank, and have allowed the airline to increase its routes to cities such as Bouaké, Korhogo and San Pédro.

ACI plans to continue building its regional network, which now serves 17 cities in West and Central Africa. To support its expansion, the airline will need strong capital reserves and partnerships with other carriers: it plans to boost its capital by raising CFA20bn (€30m) in 2015, and to increase code-sharing with other airlines, which it began doing with Air Burkina in late 2013. “The aviation business is such a capital-intensive industry that African airlines need to think in terms of partnerships and code-sharing in order to lower operational costs and enhance revenues,” Decurey told OBG.

Fees & Pricing

Operators at Abidjan airport continue to face high fees, a common problem throughout West Africa. Though fuel costs have gone down in recent years – caused by the drop in crude prices and improved productivity from the country’s refinery – airlines’ operating costs are partially elevated by high taxes. Much of the cost burden is thus passed on to consumers in the form of higher ticket prices. “Airport fees, such as services provided to the airliner, are displayed on passenger tickets as taxes, which is not quite fair,” Gilles Darriau, managing director of Aéria, told OBG. Another reason for high prices is consumer behaviour. Most tickets for flights through Abidjan are sold close to – even on – the day of travel. Advance-purchase pricing schemes have little effect in the Ivorian market, which is dominated by business travellers who are less price-sensitive. Nonetheless, downward pressure on fares is expected to continue as more carriers set up shop in Abidjan, boosting competition. AÉROCITÉ: One part of the government’s strategy to turn Abidjan into a regional hub for aviation is Aé rocité, a $2bn mixed-use development to be built on 3700 ha next to the airport. Slated to include hotels, shops, office space, warehouses, equipment facilities and an exposition centre, Aérocité is modelled on similar initiatives, such as South Africa’s Aerotroplis, that aim to raise freight and passenger volumes by clustering activity around the airport. A delayed first phase of 80 ha, initially set to begin in 2013, had yet to get off the ground as of early 2015.

Commuter Train

Congestion is a growing problem in Abidjan, a city of 4.2m as of 2011, resulting from long neglect of the urban infrastructure and accelerated migration to the city from Ivorians fleeing political unrest and poverty in the interior. To ease traffic on Abidjan’s crowded streets, the government has launched plans for a light rail commuter train. In February 2014 a French-Korean consortium of Bouygues, Hyundai and Dongsan Engineering was chosen to build and operate the line. The terms are still under discussion, but the government hopes soon to secure full private financing for the project, at an estimated cost of up to €1bn.

Expected to carry 300,000 passengers a day, the commuter train will follow 37.5 km of existing rail lines and share platforms with Sitarail. An initial north-south line will connect the northern suburbs of Anyama and Abobo to the business and commercial districts of Adjamé, Plateau and Treichville, before terminating at the airport. A later east-west line is expected to run from Youpougon (Bingerville) to Adjamé.

Outlook

Côte d’Ivoire’s reinvestment in its long-neglected transport infrastructure comes just in time to keep pace with the demands of a growing population and an expanding economy. The benefits of road, rail and port projects will reinforce each other, cementing the country’s role as a gateway for its land-locked neighbours. Sustaining the funding levels needed to maintain these networks will pose challenges, but strong investment from the private sector and a high level of public-private collaboration bode well for the sector.

Meanwhile, ongoing efforts to increase air connections and improve airport infrastructure promise to facilitate higher tourist and business visitor numbers from both the region and further abroad. The Aé rocité project is also set to boost air traffic by clustering relevant industries, such as hotels, meeting space and cargo handling operations, near to the main airport.

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The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2015

Transport chapter from The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2015

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