NIGER has signed an agreement with Geftarail stating the company still holds the rights to build West Africa’s biggest railway network at a cost of 10 billion euros ($11 billion), even as French billionaire Vincent Bollore constructs a rival line to link five nations in the region.
The agreement “fully recognises the 1999 deal to build the railway link,” Paris-based Geftarail Chairman Michel Bosio, 70, said by phone. “It’s the recognition of the law, of the international law and of an agreement signed collectively by four African states.”
The two French companies are intent on building a railway network that will facilitate trade and boost growth in a region where seaports to ship commodities have typically been a priority.
Their plans coincide with ambitious multi-billion-dollar railway projects in East Africa that are designed to connect landlocked countries like Rwanda to the coast and provide an alternative to clogged highways.
“They’re two different perimeters,” said Mohamed Moussa, who signed the accord as permanent secretary for public-private partnerships at the office of Niger’s prime minister.
“If Geftarail wants to build its railway, they are most welcome. That won’t in any way challenge Bollore’s perimeter,” Moussa said by phone from Niger’s capital, Niamey.
Geftarail has yet to find funding for its project 16 years after it obtained concession rights to build a regional railway, which was inspired by plans from the colonial era. It wants to attract Chinese companies to build it, said Bosio, who is being supported by a former prime minister of France, Michel Rocard.
Bollore Group has a near-monopoly on ports in West Africa, holding concessions to operate container terminals in at least nine nations including Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Ghana. The company also runs dry ports in landlocked nations such as Burkina Faso and Chad. Julien Varin, a Bollore spokesman, said by phone he couldn’t immediately comment on the issue.
Will drop court action
In November, Geftarail filed a petition at the International Court of Arbitration in Paris demanding work on Bollore’s railway project in Niger and Benin be halted because it constituted a violation of Geftarail’s concession rights. Under Wednesday’s agreement, the company says it will drop the arbitration request, while Niger will ask Benin to approve the Geftarail accord.
Bollore Africa Logistics in August signed a concession agreement to build and rehabilitate a 1,065-kilometer (662-mile) railway connecting Niger and Benin, part of a planned project to build a railway link between five countries in the region.
Bollore’s Ivory Coast unit Sitarail is upgrading an existing 1,260-kilometer railway to neighbouring Burkina Faso. (Bloomberg)