A host of infrastructure projects are aimed at boosting connectivity

Transport and logistics in Gabon are in the midst of a major transformation. The condition and availability of infrastructure have long been a stumbling block – in particular, the shortage of paved roads, which in effect cuts off much of the country’s interior from the capital and other key cities, especially during the rainy season. Congestion at its ports, too, has been a problem for many years, driving up the cost of trade, and in various international rankings Gabon performs poorly for the quality of its logistics capabilities. To remedy this, the government is engaged in a multi-year programme to upgrade the country’s infrastructure, with the aim of making it into a logistics centre for the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (Communauté Économique et Monétaire de l’Afrique Centrale, CEMAC).

Land, Air & Sea

The cornerstone is land transport. State investments include a programme to repave many existing roads and construct several new ones – not least, a road that will connect the country’s two main cities, Libreville and Port-Gentil. This investment will see the total length of paved roads in the country increase six-fold between 2009 and 2025, opening up much of the interior to commerce with the cities and bringing it access to new markets. Authorities are also working to improve road safety in order to bring down the number of deaths by automobile, a figure that is already falling.

The other two pillars are air travel and maritime transport. The state plans to build a new airport in the capital city of Libreville and revamp the existing one in the country’s second city, Port-Gentil, into an international facility. As for maritime transport, work is under way to expand capacity and improve efficiency at major sea ports, and the government is working with donors to upgrade river ports to make better use of Gabon’s inland waterways and raise capacity on major maritime routes.

International Comparisons

In worldwide rankings that compare the quality and efficiency of infrastructure between countries, Gabon’s performance is moderate to poor. Respondents to the “2013-14 Global Competitiveness Report” published by the World Economic Forum, for example, gave its overall infrastructure (including electricity and telephone alongside transport) a score of 2.9 out of 7, placing it 130th out of 148 countries, down from 131st in 2012. Inadequate supply of infrastructure, the survey reported, is the third most problematic factor for doing business in the country.

The effects of this are felt in foreign trade. In the World Bank’s “2014 Doing Business” report, Gabon ranks 135th out of 189 in the “trading across borders” category. Factors pushing down the country’s position include the high costs and long time it takes to import and export goods compared with developed nations. According to the report, exporting a container from Gabon costs $2045, compared to an average of $1070 for OECD countries, and takes 20 days, compared to 11 in the OECD. There are similar discrepancies for imports. By African standards, however, the country performed relatively well. The cost of importing a container to Gabon comes in at $2175, well below the average of $2793 for sub-Saharan African states. The average time involved in doing so is also much lower in Gabon: 22 days, versus 38 for the region.

Despite standing out from its neighbours for the cost of foreign trade, the country underperformed by both regional and international standards in the World Banks’ 2014 logistics performance index, where it ranked 150th out of 160 countries worldwide, based on a score of 2.2 out of 5 (down from 2.34 the previous year). In addition, the Central African state scored worse overall than both its upper-middle-income and its sub-Saharan African peers, which earned average ratings of 2.84 and 2.46, respectively. Its performance was pulled down by scores of 2 out of 5 in the Customs category and 2.08 in the infrastructure category – both well below the average for upper-middle-income and sub-Saharan African states – though it scored a comparatively strong 3.27 in the timeliness category, compared to respective scores of 2.94 and 2.87 for its income group and regional peers. Costs were an important contributor to its poor performance; 100% of respondents to the survey on which the scores are based said that port, airport, road transport, warehousing and agent fees are high and very high, compared to an average 68.7% response across these categories for sub-Saharan African countries and 60.6% for upper-middle-income states. Similarly, 100% of respondents said that the quality of ports, airports, road and rail in Gabon was low or very low.

Industry players echo the findings of such rankings. “The cost of logistics is currently very high in Gabon as transport links are both limited and congested. This is a major concern for economic actors in the country as it has a significant impact on the cost of consumer goods, including locally produced ones,” Bertrand Rose, CEO of Necotrans Gabon, told OBG. “Traffic problems in Libreville, and especially lack of road maintenance, also give rise to delivery delays and hence higher costs.”

State Investment Plans

Aware of these problems and their impact on the economy, the government has embarked on an ambitious plan to overhaul the country’s transport infrastructure. The goal is to significantly improve connectivity and thereby reduce transport times and lower logistical costs.

On a broader view, government plans for developing transport and other infrastructure, which are set out in the National Infrastructure Master Plan (Schéma Directeur National d’Infrastructure, SDNI), are intended to transform Gabon into a regional logistics centre serving its landlocked neighbours. The SDNI provides the specifics of infrastructure projects under the over-arching Emerging Gabon national development plan, with the aim of bringing infrastructure up to international norms, such as by improving connections between main cities and boosting capacity on the rail network.

The authorities are investing heavily to this end. Some of the proceeds from the government’s $1.5bn Eurobond issue in late 2013 will go towards upgrading transport infrastructure. Donors such as the African Development Bank (AfDB), too, are focusing on this sector. Development plans include a major road-building programme that has been under way for several years and is rapidly transforming the network. In a recent speech, President Ali Bongo Ondimba said that the country had built and renovated more new roads in the last five years than in the previous 20. Out of a total road network of more than 9000 km, about 1800 km of the country’s roads had tarmac at the end of 2013, nearly double the 2009 figure thanks to an intense road-building programme. The government aims to double the figure again by 2016, to 3600 km, which will then amount to around 30% of the new total network length, and to build another 2500 km of tarmac roads between 2017 and 2025, bringing the total to 6100 km.

Toll Roads

The amount of money available for road building and maintenance may soon receive a boost in the form of a toll system on some roads, further enhancing the state’s ability to improve transport links. Patrick Oyaya, director-general of the Road Fund (Fonds Routier, FR), which is responsible for both of these activities, told OBG that a study on the feasibility of such a system is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014.

The FR was established in 2012 to replace a previous institution, the Second Generation Road Fund, which was itself set up in 2006 and, though nominally responsible for maintenance, also undertook road construction and other tasks.

“The Gabonese government has established the FR in order to optimise funds allocated to investment and maintenance road programmes within the country,” said Oyaya. The fund’s 2013 investment budget was CFA241bn (€361m), while its maintenance budget was CFA41bn (€61.5m). According to Oyaya, the investment budget for 2014/15 would stand somewhere between CFA150bn (€225m) and CFA200bn (€300m), while the maintenance budget would remain at around CFA40bn (€60m).

Road Safety

According to the Association of Gabonese Insurance Companies (Fédération Gabonaise des Sociétés d’Assurances, FEGASA), more than 23,000 accidents have taken place on Gabonese roads over the past decade, resulting in around 7000 deaths. The association estimates the cost to insurers of these accidents at about CFA20.8bn (€31.2m) a year. Such accidents also cost the state around CFA13bn (€19.5m) a year, the FEGASA reported.

The number of such deaths may have already been coming down for several years. Though the FEGASA data gives an average of 700 road deaths a year, the World Health Organisation estimated the number of road deaths at a substantially lower 338 people in 2010 (the latest year for which it has available data), yielding a rate of 22.5 deaths per 100,000 people. While this not particularly high by the standards of other African and middle-income countries, it is a rate well above those of Western countries – the figure for the UK, for example, was 3.7.

In recent years, death rates appear to have fallen even further, standing at 165 in 2012 and 85 in 2013. Even so, these still yield a per capita rate well above Western countries. Such results come despite the significantly shorter distances that most Gabonese likely travel by car each year compared to citizens of OECD countries. Data on deaths per passenger kilometre travelled, which account for such differences, are not available for Gabon.

With an aim to reduce these figures even more, the authorities are taking a number of measures to reduce the number of road accidents and deaths. In December 2012 the transport and oil ministries began a public road safety campaign, of which the second phase was launched in April 2013. Nine months later, in January 2014, the General Directorate for Road Security announced plans to install speed cameras on certain busier parts of the country’s road network in order to further discourage speeding and thereby bring the accident rate down further. The authorities are also working on the construction of 100 pedestrian crossings in the major cities to reduce the dangers associated with crossing busy roads. Most of these crossings will be built in Libreville, on roads such as the expressway between Libreville airport and Owendo port. Although a breakdown of casualties for Gabon is not available, pedestrians account for around 40% of road traffic accident deaths in Africa as a whole, underlining the need for the construction of infrastructure that facilitates the safe crossing of major roads. Donor institutions also play a significant role: the AfDB-financed PR2 programme, for example, includes a road safety component alongside HIV/AIDS sensitisation and environmental protection measures, with a total budget of €254.7m (see analysis).

Airport Expansion

Air transport is regulated and supervised by the National Civil Aviation Agency (Agence Nationale de l’Aviation Civile, ANAC). Created in 2008, the agency is currently working on a new civil aviation code, which ANAC’S director-general, Dominique Oyinamono, told OBG in July 2014 should be ready within several months.

The country’s air travel system is more developed than that of other transport segments. Respondents to the “2013-14 Global Competitiveness Report” gave the quality of air transport infrastructure a score of 3.6 out of 7, placing Gabon 110th out of 149 countries worldwide. Infrastructure is also set to expand substantially thanks to a number of projects to upgrade the country’s airports, such as the expansion of Port-Gentil’s airport into an international facility, at an estimated cost of more than $100m, by 2015. The project includes both building a new terminal of 5800 sq metres (which is to be expanded under a second phase to 9500 sq metres), and lengthening the facility’s runway to 2600 metres so that it can receive long-haul carriers. The second phase of the project will also see the construction of a second runway that is 3000 metres long.

In 2016, a new airport for the capital is scheduled to open, comprising a 26,000-sq-metre terminal with an annual passenger capacity of 2m and a 3850-metre-long runway. Expansion of the existing Léon Mba International Airport is hindered by its proximity to Libreville, which is widening its sprawl as it grows and increasingly swallowing up the area around the airport. To avoid a repeat of this, the new one will be located on a 1500-ha site in Andeme, some 60 km from the centre of the capital.

Passenger Traffic

The need for such facilities is underlined by rising passenger numbers. In 2013, 913,337 travellers passed through the airport in Libreville, up 9% on 2012, which itself rose 7.4% on 2011. Growth in both of these years exceeded the 2009-13 compound annual growth rate of 6.1%. Of the 2013 total, 279,265 were domestic (up 11.6% from 250,179 the previous year), 103,518 were in transit, 89,126 were travelling to and from other Central African states (up 9.1% from 81,625), and 441,404 were travelling to or from states outside CEMAC (up 5.8% from 417,045, following a 13.3% increase the previous year). As for freight, 19,874 tonnes passed through the airport in 2013, up from 17,060 tonnes in 2012.

Passenger traffic through Port-Gentil’s airport, the country’s second largest, stood at 123,596 in 2013, according to figures provided by ANAC. This was above the 2012 figure, which was 120,012, but below that for 2011, which was 126,209. The number of passengers travelling through Mvengué El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba Airport in Franceville, another important transit centre, stood at 26,909 in 2013, more or less unchanged from 26,145 in 2012 and 25,304 in 2011.

Air Links

The total number of commercial flights to and from Léon Mba airport in 2012 stood at 21,695. Major routes include Libreville to Port-Gentil, which accounted for 20% of them in 2013, and Libreville-Paris, which accounted for 14%. Air France was responsible for more passenger traffic through Léon Mba Airport than any other airline in 2013, at 143,811, followed by Nationale Régionale Transport (NRT), at 78,677, and Allégiance Airways, at 66,619. After Air France, the largest foreign airlines by passenger traffic through Gabonese airports in 2013 were Asky Airlines, a regional carrier based in Togo, at 52,507 passengers, and Senegal Airlines, at 51,626 passengers. In 2011, the latest year for which data is available from Aéroport de Libreville, the French airline accounted for 125,482 travellers passing through the airport, followed by NRT (89,417) and Allégiance Airways (71,603).

Three local airlines – Allégiance, NRT and Afric Aviation – offer internal flights. All three are currently blacklisted by the EU on safety grounds. In September 2013 Afric Aviation, a Port-Gentil-based joint venture between Gabonese investors and Equaflight Services/Regourd Aviation that carried 53,766 passengers to or from Gabon in 2013, launched its first international route, consisting of four flights a week to Douala in neighbouring Cameroon. The firm said it would increase this to a daily route if demand proved sufficient. Three other local airlines offer charter and freight services: Afrijet, 2AG (also blacklisted by the EU) and SkyGabon.

New Services

International airlines stepped up their services to Gabon in 2013. Turkish Airlines launched three weekly flights to Libreville in February, and flew a total of 18,070 passengers to and from the capital over the course of the year. In March, Air France expanded its Paris-Libreville service from five flights a week to daily service, though in December Lufthansa, which flew 20,245 passengers to and from the capital in 2013, ended its service from Frankfurt to Libreville, which it had begun in 2009 and had been running five days a week. Air Burkina and Kenya Airways also cancelled their routes to Gabon in 2013. Other international airlines with service to Libreville include Royal Air Maroc (RAM, which accounted for 42,572 passengers travelling through the city in 2013), Ethiopian Airlines (47,503), Rwandair (16,433), South African Airways (43,827), Trans Air Congo (16.177), Air Côte d’Ivoire (30,892), Ceiba (9857) and Camair-Co (24,009).

Industry players say that additional routes are likely to enter operation in the near future. “The prospects for the creation of new routes between Gabon and other countries are very good,” Oyinamono told OBG. “Since ANAC’s establishment it has signed air traffic agreements with numerous countries, including Morocco, France, Côte d’Ivoire and Luxemburg, as well as having negotiated others that have yet to be signed, including with Sao Tomé, Belgium and Kenya. We are currently working on organising other similar agreements.”

National Carrier

Though for the moment Gabon has no national flag carrier, in September 2013 Chinese wire agency Xinhua reported that Gabonese authorities were working with RAM, Morocco’s flag carrier, on reviving plans to establish a national airline, to be known as Air Gabon International. The two partners had agreed to set up an airline by that name in 2006, emulating another (since-failed) RAM joint venture, Air Senegal International. The plan had been to fly African and European routes using three planes at first, then four by 2009, but the project did not get off the ground. In 2007 Christian Bongo Ondimba, son of then-president Omar Bongo Ondimba, established a national airline called Gabon Airlines, but this too closed in 2010.

Regional Carrier

Another airline project currently under way is meant to establish a regional carrier, Air CEMAC. Under plans agreed in June 2012, each of CEMAC’s member states (including Gabon) will hold a 5% interest, alongside Air France (34%) and the Bank of Central African States (15%). Begun in 2000, the project is gradually making progress towards its debut operation; in March 2013 the company inaugurated its headquarters in Brazzaville, in the Republic of the Congo. Still, the firm’s stakeholders have yet to overcome a number of obstacles: Air France has reportedly demanded that the new airline should have a monopoly on regional routes, and the airline has failed to meet an earlier deadline for its launch by end-2013. Several other major airlines, including RAM and South African Airlines, were previously lined up as strategic investors in the project but subsequently withdrew.

Rail

Gabon’s rail network consists of a single 658-km line, known as the Trans-Gabon Railway. Carrying both passengers and freight (chiefly manganese ore and timber) between Franceville and Libreville’s port of Owendo, the line is operated by the Société d’Exploitation du Transgabonais (Setrag), which is owned by French mining company Eramet and was awarded a 30-year concession to operate the railway in 2005. In 2012 it carried 255,593 passengers, up from 233,034 the previous year, and 711,201 tonnes of freight, up from 665,039.

The line has suffered from poor maintenance and low investment. Respondents to the “2013-14 Global Competitiveness Report” gave the quality of the country’s railway infrastructure a score of 2.4 out of 7, ranking it 80th out of 149 countries. In July 2013 the minister of transport, Jean Emmanuel Bie, said that a train on the line is derailed at least once every two months, especially on a 225km-long stretch between Owendo port and Ndjolé. In one accident in February 2014, seven people were killed.

Setrag is therefore working to improve the line. In 2012, it announced plans to invest CFA30bn-40bn (€45m-60m) over three years for its refurbishment, and in coming years intends to renovate 30 km of track and replace 65,000 annually. As for rolling stock, Setrag has acquired six new main-line locomotives for the railway in recent years and in 2013 began consultations for the purchase of new shunting locomotives. It has also been upgrading its wagon fleet over the course of 2013 and 2014.

Urban Roads

The country’s capital of Libreville suffers from substantial traffic issues; however, here too efforts are being made to alleviate the problem. A major road project under way in the city is the renovation and widening of a 1.2-km road in the neighbourhood of Glass, south of the city centre, which will reduce travel time between central Libreville and the port and industrial area of Owendo. Work on the project, begun in December 2012 by energy and infrastructure firm Acciona, will transform the road into a dual carriageway, and is scheduled for completion in September 2014.

Also in the capital, the National Agency for Public Works (Agence Nationale des Grands Travaux, ANGT) is building a 5.5-km road parallel to the coast, linking the up-market suburb of La Sablière to the Cap Esterias area at the northern tip of the cape where Libreville is located, near the Akanda National Park. This thoroughfare, known as Sablière Phase II, will connect to another of the area’s recently-built motorways, Sablière I.

Public Transit

Public transport projects should also help to reduce urban traffic problems and delays. Libreville currently has a public bus network, and the authorities aim to establish similar ones in other major cities, starting with Port-Gentil before the end of 2014. As part of plans to extend bus networks, Société Gabonais du Transport (Sogatra), which is responsible for public road transport in the country, agreed in November 2013 to purchase 149 new buses from Brazilian vehicle manufacturer Marco Polo, at a cost of CFA7.45bn (€11.2m). In February 2014 the firm received the first 28 of these, which have room for 75 passengers each (45 seated and 30 standing), with the remainder to be delivered in phases over the next year. The new acquisitions will substantially increase the size of the firm’s bus fleet, which Sogatra plans to raise to 500 by 2014. The purchases are part of a plan to launch 30 new bus routes in Libreville in 2014, with a combined daily passenger capacity of 580,000 people (the capital’s total population is around 700,000). The ANGT is also building a special lane reserved for buses and taxis as part of its work to expand the aforementioned Glass road in order to reduce the impact of Libreville’s significant congestion problems on public transport vehicles. Sogatra’s CEO, Alain Paul Ndjoubi Ossamy, said in January 2014 that the wider adoption of such reserved bus lanes would be necessary to address the city’s traffic problems.

Many residents of the capital have also traditionally relied on taxis to get around town. Most existing taxis in the country are generally used on a shared basis and do not currently have meters. However, in another measure to develop urban transport, Sogatra in May 2014 ordered 100 new metered taxis in Libreville. In addition, the new taxis (all produced by Ford) have air-conditioning, GPS systems and Wi-Fi for passengers as well as surveillance cameras to improve passenger safety, following a number of instances of robberies in shared taxies. The vehicles are mainly based at the city’s airport, larger hotels, and major shops and shopping centres and are not permitted to pick up additional passengers once a metered journey has begun.

Port Infrastructure

About 80% of Gabon’s imports and exports pass through its two main maritime ports, one in the political capital of Libreville and the other in oil capital of Port-Gentil. Both are jointly managed by two entities: the Bureau of Ports and Harbours of Gabon (Office des Ports et Rades du Gabon, OPRAG), the government agency responsible for the supervision and oversight of maritime ports, and Gabon Port Management, a private subsidiary of Singapore-based turnkey port solutions provider Portek International, which signed a 25-year concession in 2007. Portek is itself owned by the Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co.

Libreville’s main port deals mostly with imported goods. Located in Owendo, about 15 km south of the city’s centre, it has a 455m-long quay with an 11-metre draught that was built in 1974, an 8-ha yard for general cargo, a 9-ha container yard and three functioning berths, one of which is a dedicated oil terminal. These resources enable it to handle oil and other hydrocarbons, cement, bulk minerals, roll-on roll-off vehicles and containers. “Construction-related imports, including in particular construction equipment, are growing rapidly, while food imports are stable,” Philippe Gery, director-general of Gabon Port Management, told OBG. “As country development plans unfold and new projects come on-line, we would expect freight exports to pick up and bring a balance to this trade.”

Owendo’s container terminal, built in 2009 with a storage capacity of 4000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), is operated by Société de Terminaux de Conteneurs de Gabon, a joint venture between Necotrans Gabon, a subsidiary of French logistics firm Necotrans, and Bolloré Africa Logistics, a logistics and industrial projects unit of the French group Bolloré. According to Rose, the terminal exports an average of 2500 TEUs a month (mostly wood products), and imports around 6200 TEUs a month (mostly consumer goods). “The container terminal was enlarged from 80,000 sq metres to 115,000 sq metres, from a mere 74,000 sq metres initially,” Rigobert Ikambouayat Ndeka, director-general of OPRAG, told OBG. “Goods can enter the terminal by three different entry gates and exit it via two others.”

Port-Gentil’s commercial port is more geared towards oil exports. It has a 375-metre main quay with a draught of 11 metres, as well as a fishing quay and a 10-ha container yard. Most hydrocarbons exports are routed through the Cap Lopez oil terminal about 17 km from Libreville, which is operated by Total Gabon, can receive tankers of up to 300,000 tonnes, and has a storage capacity of 640,000 cu metres. “As far as bulk and cereal are concerned, the unloading speed could be more efficient,” Ndeka told OBG. “Additional infrastructure needs to be built so as to streamline the unloading process.”

In July 2013 pirates hijacked an oil tanker that had just loaded crude at the terminal, the first such attack in Gabonese waters. They are thought to have taken the tanker into areas controlled by Nigeria.

Port Traffic

The total tonnage of imports coming through these two ports in 2012 stood at 2.11m, about 678,000 via Port-Gentil and 1.43m via Libreville, according to the Gabonese Council of Shippers. The main source market for these by region was Europe, at 51% of the total by weight, followed by Asia (37%); no other region accounted for more than 3%. By country, the biggest source markets were China (24%), France (17%) and Switzerland (15%). As for outbound freight, Port-Gentil exported 11.26m tonnes in 2012, while Libreville exported 3.53m, for a total of 14.8m. Here, the leading regional destination was Asia, at 32% of the total by weight, followed by Europe (22%) and North America (18%). By country, the major destinations were the US (18%), Japan (8%) and Australia (6.25%). Regarding content, 93% of port exports by weight, or 13.79m tonnes, were extracted products, of which more than three-fourths went through Port-Gentil, while 92.5% of imports were manufactured products, of which around two-thirds went through Libreville. Crude oil accounted for 78% of extracted exports by weight, nearly all of which was exported via Port-Gentil, while manganese minerals made up 22% of the total (3m tonnes in 2012), all of which was exported via Libreville. Some 38,160 containers of various sizes were imported via Owendo in 2012, and 20,834 exported. Port-Gentil exported 3266 containers and imported 5955.

Port-mole Expansion

Libreville is also host to another port for small boats (primarily fishing vessels), called Port-Mole de Libreville, which has a 280m-long quay with a draught of 3m. In September 2013 it was shuttered for redevelopment works and the construction of a new marina. The aim of this project will be to promote economic development in the broader area around the port.

The first phase of this, which is due to be completed in late 2014 at a cost of CFA60bn (€90m), involves dredging the port and reclaiming 340,000 sq metres of land from the sea. The work is being undertaken by China Harbour Engineering Company, which previously reclaimed 115 ha worth of land in order to construct the artificial island on which Macao International Airport was built.

The second phase in 2015, which will also cost CFA60bn (€90m), will see the construction of new infrastructure and buildings at the site as well as a commercial and cultural zone that will include hotels, conference centres, museums, retail and leisure space and offices. Momentum on the project slowed in mid-2014, with President Ali Bongo Ondimba announcing at a press conference in April 2014 that the government had decided to review certain parts of the project, including a look at the scope of private sector participation, before continuing.

Deep-water Ports

Other facilities may also take some of the strain off Owendo and Port-Gentil in the future. In 2011 the authorities proposed the construction of a new deep-water port at Mayumba in the southern province of Nyanaga. A preliminary study suggested the port could be built at a cost of around €260m; however, there has been little reported progress on the project in recent years, and it was unclear as of July 2014 whether it will go ahead.

Another project currently under consideration is the construction of a deep-water port at Santa Clara, north of Libreville, primarily for the purpose of exporting the output from the Belinga iron ore mine. Here too, as with the Mayumba port, the current status of the project remains unclear.

Maritime Passenger Links

The Compagnie Nationale de Navigation Intérieure et International (CNNII), a state-owned enterprise that replaced a previous firm known as Compagnie Nationale de Navigation in 2013, is responsible for running maritime, river and lagoon transport operations, whether for passengers or for freight. This includes a route along the country’s coast between Libreville and PortGentil, a journey that is currently impossible when travelling by land, although a road linking these two cities is under construction (see analysis).

This route is serviced by both catamaran and landing craft. A second high-speed catamaran, the Apomandé Jet, came back into service on the route in March 2014, having been taken out in 2010 for refurbishment by engineers from the German firm Dieselworks at a shipyard in Cameroon.

This work is part of a wider project to upgrade CNNII’s fleet that has also seen it acquire two new landing craft-type vessels. The state firm, which has a 2014 budget of CFA12bn (€18m), including an investment allocation of about CFA3bn (€4.5m), launched three new maritime routes in Gabon in 2013, one linking Libreville to the town of Gamba (via Port-Gentil) in July, and two river routes linking the towns of Ndongou and Lambaréné to Port-Gentil in March. In its eight months of operation in 2013, boats run by CNNII made 781 trips altogether, carrying a total of 105,063 passengers, equivalent to an average of just over 13,000 a month. Gabon has some 3000 km of inland water highways, about a fifth of which are in commercial use.

The government intends eventually to upgrade the entire network, backed by the AfDB. The PR2 road-building initiative (see analysis), which is being funded by the bank, includes a budget of about CFA4.4bn (€6.6m) for the improvement of river transport, including CFA3.5bn (€5.3m) for the rehabilitation and construction of five docks at Mandorové, Omboué, Ngoumba, Achouka and Ndjolé on the river Ogouée as well as CFA480m (€720,000) for the supply and installation of floating buoys on the waterway. Separately, the initiative also includes CFA600m (€900,000) for a feasibility study on the construction of a new river port at Lambaréné.

Outlook

Gabon’s transport infrastructure is set for a radical overhaul in coming years. An enormous increase in the proportion of roads that are paved should help open up the interior of the country and boost socioeconomic development in previously isolated areas. Expansion projects at Owendo port should also help reduce congestion and hence costs for shippers, and airport capacity in the country’s main cities is set to increase dramatically, allowing international flights to operate out of Port-Gentil.

The main issue now is not whether, but rather how soon, such projects can be completed. “The government’s strategy for improving infrastructure is good, though the time it will take to implement may lead to problems,” Rose told OBG. “Major public works are under way but generally take a certain amount of time to finish.” He added that the economy is growing at a faster rate than the construction, expansion and upgrading of transport routes in the country.

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The Report: Gabon 2014

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