The beginning of South/South cooperation
This first visit by the Gabonese President to Djibouti succeeded in strengthening the already excellent bilateral and multilateral political relations between the two countries. Indeed, on several occasions in the past, the two countries have shared similar views on issues of common interest, such as transnational threats (e.g. maritime piracy or issues affecting peace and security on the continent) and have also supported one another during various applications to international arenas.
The Gabonese Head of State's presence in Djibouti is proof of his intention to strengthen cooperation between the two countries by setting up a legal framework for bilateral cooperation. It is to this end that the two countries signed three agreements:
- A Framework Cooperation Agreement, opening up cooperation between the two governments;
- A Memorandum of Cooperation on regular diplomatic consultations between the two foreign ministries;
- A mutual Agreement on Visa Exemptions for holders of diplomatic, official and service passports.
For Ali Bongo Ondimba, these agreements are a sign of the commitment of African countries to constructing concrete South/South partnerships. As he said, following the signing of the agreements: "We have been discussing South/South cooperation for many years. We have had enough now of well-turned phrases. We want action. We need to look at what we Africans can do if we pull together".
The Gabonese President sees these agreements as an important first step, saying: "We will explore new avenues of cooperation. We have a number of ideas. We will take these first steps.
Future joint projects will naturally be in line with the Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan (the "PSGE"), which has governed the country's development since 2009.
Gabon could benefit from Djibouti expertise in port and rail development projects
As a country traditionally dependent on port activities, Djibouti has significant expertise in this area. This is an area of particular interest to Gabon, which wants to develop its own deepwater ports.
During his State visit to the country, the Gabonese President therefore took the opportunity to visit the Djibouti Free Zone, which plays host to 175 companies from 37 countries and is the site of the Doraleh deepwater port, the 5th largest port in the world and the largest in Africa, in terms of depth.
Djibouti and Dubai, in particular via DP World, the third largest port operator in the world, have invested $400 million in this port, which has a 1,050m quay length and can accommodate all new generation container ships. Doraleh is hoping to double its capacity to 3 million containers per year in order to meet the growing needs of the Horn of Africa in particular.
And the country does not intend stop there. Within the next 4 years, it is hoping to build five new ports and a railway linking the east coast of the continent to the Atlantic coast, which would enable goods to be transported across Africa in 72 hours. The cost of these projects is estimated at around $6 billion.
Djibouti's expertise in terms of port development and logistics platforms, in addition to the proposed trans- African railway, is certainly of interest to Gabon, which plans to build the largest deepwater port in the Gulf of Guinea, in the Mandji Island Free Zone, near Port-Gentil, the economic capital of Gabon.
The Mandji Island Free Zone and its deepwater port
With a view to supporting national industrialisation, diversifying the economy, stimulating investment and creating jobs, the Gabonese Government made a decision to develop economic zones and free zones throughout Gabon. This should see the emergence of new growth centres throughout Gabon, attracting investors and bringing industry closer to resources.
Located near Port-Gentil, the economic capital of Gabon, the Mandji Island Free Zone, which covers an area of around 900 ha, occupies a unique geocentric position in the Gulf of Guinea and presents undeniable geomorphological advantages for port facilities, the oil and gas industry and container berths.
The Free Zone offers development potential for several business sectors, such as oil and gas activities, wood processing, the development of fisheries and river resources, the operation of the deepwater port, service activities related to new technologies, storage, assembly and distribution activities, shipbuilding activities, transhipment activities and even the construction of a residential area.
The location of the free port in particular presents certain advantages for international investors that would be hard to find elsewhere. As the Gulf of Guinea does not have a very deepwater port, the location is ideal for the passage, unloading and maintenance of ships, platforms and containers in transit, etc. The water depth is greater than 22m at the docks and jetties, which will enable access for new generation and large capacity container ships. The terminal is expected to accommodate 1.2 million containers per year (double the Vridi terminal in Abidjan).
The aim of this project is to promote the development of maritime activities on the coast of West Africa, and to act as a centre for development to much of the Atlantic coast of Africa. The Port Gentil international airport, the future deepwater port and the development of the trans-Gabon rail network are set to turn Mandji Island into a hub for relations with the countries of the Gulf of Guinea and especially with the landlocked countries of Central Africa.
For a total estimated cost of USD 1.86 billion, the project will be funded 20% by the State while 80% of the capital will be held by private investors. In the long term, the activities of the area could generate between 10 and 15,000 jobs.
The President's State visit provided an opportunity for the two countries to pave the way for fruitful future cooperation in line with the development projects and diversification of Gabon.