The presence of Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, the powerful Chairman and CEO of the Dubai-based port operator DP World at the foundation stone lying ceremony of a new deep-water port at Banana on 31 Jan alongside President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has signalled the desire of the UAE to be a leading port operator in Africa.
In its first phase the facility, which is located on a narrow strip of DRC’s Atlantic coastline, will be made up of a 600-meter-long quay with an 18-meter draught allowing for the large container carriers to dock. It will also have a 30-hectare yard to store containers. Once fully operational, the Banana port will have a capacity to handle 322,000 Twenty Foot Equivalent (TEU) worth of cargo capacity.
This will be the Emirati firm’s eight major port in Africa. In early January, DP World began construction of a deep-water port at Ndayane in Senegal, which is intended to de-congest the ageing and smaller harbour at Dakar. As its ambitions grow DP World appears to be in direct competition with China, which has financed as many as 46 coastal port projects, of which it operates 11. It may also be getting more assertive in Africa as Bolloré – the long dominant private port operator – quits the continent. In December 2021, the French logistics giant announced it was selling off its port terminals, rail concessions, and warehouses in Central and West Africa.
The first phase of the US$1.2bn Banana deep seaport is expected to be completed in 12 months, and the entire facility to be completed by 2025. It lies just north of the mouth of the Congo River. Currently, the republic’s biggest port is Matadi, which is nearly 120kms up the Congo. The river at that distance is too shallow to accommodate large container carriers and its capacity of 170,000 TEUs per year is insufficient to meet the country’s import requirements. This means that DRC-bound goods have to often come from the port of Pointe-Noire in neighbouring Republic of Congo.
The construction of the Banana port is part of the ‘Governing Industrialisation Plan’ (PDI) that the DRC government launched in August 2021. It aims to revigorate industries that have been sorely neglected for decades. The government’s intention is not only to bring down the national import bill, but to export manufactured goods to the rest of the region. The plan calls for investments totalling US$58bn by 2040, of which US$6.3bn will be for ports and airports, US$21bn for roads, US$9bn for railways, and US$22bn for power generation. This presents opportunities for Asian firms with experience in ramping up infrastructure projects on that continent. Among them could be Singapore’s PSA International, which has a global presence but little discernible African presence.
‘DP World and the Democratic Republic of Congo lay first stone to mark the start of construction of Banana Port’, DP World, 1 February 2022
‘Tshisekedi launches construction of Congo's first deep-water port’, Reuters, 31 January 2022
‘La RDC a dévoilé son "Plan directeur d'industrialisation" à l'horizon 2040 chiffré à 58 milliards USD’, Actualite.cd, 27 August 2021
‘Making Chinese investment in African ports work despite risks’, DW, 26 June 2019
‘DP World begins construction of $1.13bn deep-water port in Senegal’, Ship Technology, 4 January 2022
‘RDC: un contrat avec Dubaï Port World pour la construction du port de Banana’, RFI, 25 March 2018
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