So far we have two potential companies in port operations interested in the Gambia namely Bollore and China Communications Construction Company (CCCC).
In terms of size Bollore is very small in front of the Chinese competing company. The reasons are many in that the Chinese economy is the second largest economy in the world after the United States of America. The Chinese ports operations are by far bigger in size, volumes and turn around time than what Bollore represents in ports management activities in the countries they operate in.
Gambia’s imports and Senegalese imports as well the landlocked Sahelian countries imports from China are nothing comparable to imports from any country in the world.
China we learned is working on a strategic industrial relocation policy and program and is looking at specific countries in Africa to implement its economic and industrial expansion zones for Africa and have huge financial resources to realize it soon.
In effect China is on an advance planning stage to start producing industrial consumer goods in Africa to facilitate timely deliveries and reduce the long distance and the freight cost between China markets and African markets. China therefore has a strategic interest far more than what the Gambian ports operational facilities offers to them and maybe contemplating using the Gambia as a hub to supply its existing market in some African countries if the environment is conducive.
By deciding to invest in our port facilities and the electricity sector the Chinese can envisage establishing “China Industrial Economic Free Zones” in the Gambia for supply goods in the sub-region.
Bollore on the other hand are only specialized and interested in ports operations in the Gambia. For the records they have been able to re-enter the Senegalese ports operations and secure a new concession recently after loosing it ten years ago to Dubai Port World during President Abdoulaye Wade’s mandate.
Bollore’s only advantage for the Gambia is to guaranty the easy flow of truck and containers from the Gambia thru Senegal and to other destinations in West Africa. They are backed by France and the present Senegalese government and have more political bargaining power as far easing Senegalese border controls are concerned. Bollore will however balance its operational profits between Senegal and Gambia. As a private sector company Bollore will not exclusively focus at the interest of a partner country if its other bigger interests in other ports are in jeopardy.
If the Gambia opts for the Chinese, Bollore will apply it political power in Senegal to make the transit trade flow difficult for goods from the Gambia crossing Senegalese borders. That is a cause for concern despite all treaties and conventions signed with ECOWAS. The reality on the ground is not new to Gambia and its trading partners.
We should also not loose sight that Gambian and Senegalese ports are competing service providers for the same Sahelian markets As such both countries will try to safeguard their strategic comparative advantage and interest in serving the landlocked Sahelian markets.
The Gambia is therefor under a catch 22 situations for choosing the right partner for our ports operations.
Granted China has the financial power to safeguard its investments from any country around Africa. Chinese social contribution and free construction of infrastructure buildings for social use under grants and its significant share of the consumer products imports in local markets both in Senegal and Gambia is by any means a powerful financial and political asset to maintain its influence in economically weak West African countries including Senegal and Gambia.
Judging from the above noted advantages and disadvantages in choosing the right partner for the Gambia, as a businessman I will personally go with the Chinese company knowing fully well there are far more economic benefits in encouraging China to also create a ‘Chinese Industrial Free Zone’ in the Gambia. In other words the Chinese can invest far beyond port operations. They can venture in other economic activities and create greater employment opportunities for our people. They have already decided to invest in electricity supply for industrial and residential use in the Gambia.
I know Bollore will not be happy with my conclusion in this article but the interest of the Gambia comes before any private interest.
Such being the case Mr. President, your ports management experts, your customs officials, the trade and finance ministries and the Gambia chamber of commerce should brainstorm thoroughly on the issue before you jump.
Thank you for your attention.
Pa Njie Girigara