By Boris Esono (Cameroon)
More than 95% of Cameroon’s maritime traffic transits through Douala, a sprawling hub that serves as the main gateway for landlocked Chad and the Central African Republic, CAR. In Cameroon’s port of Douala, corruption, overpriced services, red tapes have combined to put a major drag on cargo trade moving through Africa’s largest harbor.
The two countries-Chad and CAR are reported to be in search of alternative solution as corruption, red tapes, administrative bottlenecks are making it difficult for the countries to operate in the Douala port. Chad has recently cut down its imports passing through Cameroon seaport by 50% instead going through Sudan.
For Chad and CAR, Douala is the nearest gateway for a stream of transporters supplying the capitals of N’Djamena and Bangui. Due to the red tape endured, Chad’s Ministry of Infrastructure warned in a recent statement that “some are considering the idea of going through other ports in the West African sub region”.
“At the Douala port, our lorries are often blocked for many weeks before being able to get on the road”, Ali Abdallah Youssouf, head of Chad’s national council for importers and exporters and freight forwarders told AFP by phone from Libreville.
Bribes are just one of the obstacles to moving cargo at Douala port. The procedures are interminably long and costly due to lack of investment, while its infrastructure has degraded.
Moise Vokeng of the Professional Transporters Network at the Douala seaport speaking to VOA said importers and exporters are looking for alternatives. “When you arrive at the port and at any checkpoint from gendarmes to police to customs, you have to pay heavy money, you do not know why you pay buy you must pay before you pass”.
“Whether you enter with empty trucks or you are loaded, you have to pay. When we load, we have to wait for the tracking equipment from the customs to be certain and when it is certain we have six hours to leave the seaport to Yassa, which is the first checkpoint. When you arrive at the checkpoint after six hours, you have penalties to pay”.
The World Bank has noted the remarkably long time taken to move goods through the Douala port-an average 16 days according to an expert mission in March last year. The team said this period was “an eternity compared for instance with the port of Lome, Togo where the delay is two days”.
Similarly, a survey conducted for the World Bank in 2011 noted that “customs sometimes rightly took much of the blame for delays in clearing containers and other cargo but pointed out that many other agents were involved from shippers to sanitary services”.
Chad’s Director of customs, Colonel Ousmane Adam Dicki visited Cameroon to take stuck of the situation. According to him, the goods that have been pilling must first be cleared before negotiations on what his country will do next. In the past two months, more than 2,000 containers have been stuck at the Douala seaport.
Officials of Cameroon have however denied taking bribes. Ngube Philomene, a senior official of the Cameroon Military controlling traffic between Cameroon, Chad and CAR said because of insecurity, they have to control the trucks. She said: “We are systematically controlling all vehicles to CAR and Chad because of insecurity and the crisis in CAR. We have to do it for their security and safety”.
The Cameroon government has equally denied the departure of both Chad and CAR from the Douala port. The Secretary General of the Douala Port Authority, PAD in multiple outings on state broadcaster last year debunked the information saying “it is false and completely unfounded”. Onana argued that CAR and Chad have rather initiated partnership with certain ports in the sub region with which PAD also has agreements. According to him, the new agreements are meant to enable shippers in the concerned countries diversify their sea routes and enhance their business interest.
In a recent meeting in Douala, the President of the Land Transporters Union of Cameroon (GTTC) Ibrahima Yaya has called on the government to address the endemic corruption on Cameroon’s highway which is making transport and shipping business unsafe and unprofitable.