Cameroon has a pivotal place within Central Africa’s economic grouping, providing important access routes to sea ports on the Gulf of Guinea for its landlocked neighbours. Recent developments in Cameroon’s road and rail networks are set to drive the region’s economic growth, as Stephen Williams reports.
Part and parcel of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD)’s vision for Central Africa is to connect all the capitals of Central Africa by a paved road. But currently only Yaoundé (Cameroon) and Libreville (Gabon) have a metalled road in place.
The international donor community, principally the World Bank, IMF and the African Development Bank (AfDB) have pledged to support the Cameroonian government’s efforts to develop modern, efficient transport infrastructure.
The Cameroon government has launched a 10-year development plan giving priority to infrastructure development. The government has been implementing a massive public investment programme, comprising a dozen large infrastructure projects, including roads, deep-sea ports and thermal and hydraulic power plants.
Cameroon attracted private-sector participation in the Douala port container terminal in 2004, but the port lags behind the average time for handling containers in sub-Saharan Africa and is approaching its maximum capacity.
Looking ahead, two new ports will help fill the demand for additional port facilities, as robust growth in the region continues.
Cameroon’s road networks connect Chad and the Central African Republic – Cameroon’s two land-locked neighbouring countries – to the Port of Douala and the Douala-Ngaoundere railway line.
The transport links between Douala and N’Djamena, have been described as the backbone of central Africa’s transport infrastructure.It is calculated that, through rehabilitating the road and rail networks, as many as 3.5 million residents of Cameroon’s Far North region (or about 20% of the country’s population) will benefit. Last summer, a consortium led by Louis Berger won two contracts to undertake work supervision on the National Highway 9, on both sides of the Congo Brazzaville/ Cameroon border.
Louis Berger has today 10 ongoing projects in Cameroon, and 20 projects completed in the country in the last 20 years. Louis Berger was selected by the Kribi Port Authority to supervise the earthworks for the platforms that will accommodate the port development.
Kribi Port is being constructed by the Chinese company, China Harbour Engineering Co.
Other international engineering and construction companies active in Cameroon include the Portuguese company Mota Engil, and the Belgian-based Préfarail. Préfarail has been contracted to construct a $1bn, 50km tram system for the capital Yaoundé, to alleviate the serious congestion in the city. The government also intends to build two new interchanges at key road junctions in Yaoundé, to further relieve the build-up of traffic at key bottlenecks.
Meanwhile, Mota-Engil is building a 602km rail link between Mbalam and the new deepwater port at Kribi, 200km south of Douala, at a cost of $580m. The port is designed principally for the export of iron ore but also to handle bauxite/alumina, fuel oils, liquefied natural gas and other minerals.
Bolloré Africa Logistics has, since 1999, managed the Camrail rail network in Cameroon. The company’s intention is to raise the standards and, in partnership with government, banks and international funding organisations, to invest in the modernisation and upkeep of the infrastructure, equipment and rolling stock.
Bolloré has introduced a programme to renovate stations and improve passenger service in Cameroon.
And last year, in early May, Camrail introduced an intercity express service between Yaoundé and Douala, Cameroon’s two major cities.
The official launch of the new service introduced a 3h40m service along the 265km between the two cities two times daily, with 40 newly purchased passenger carriages costing nearly $21m. It is estimated that the company will carry 1.5 million passengers a year.
Complementing its passenger services, Camrail offers a range of specialised rolling stock: platform wagons for dry or refrigerated containers; covered wagons for conventional freight (sawed timber, cotton, construction materials, bagged goods, etc.); bulk tanker wagons for fuel and other fluids; and high-sided wagons for dry bulk.
The government has prioritised rail freight as essential for the exploitation of the many minerals that the country possesses.
Rail freight is also considered essential for the agricultural sector, to enable farmers to get their produce to markets with an alternative to road freight.
Four years ago, government presented an ambitious $28bn railway master plan to substantially expand its rail network within its borders and beyond, to connect with neighbouring countries.
The focus of the $800m Limbe Port initiative will initially be on creating a modern container terminal. It will consist of four terminals with a 200,000 a year 20ft equivalent units (teu) container capacity.