PORT SERIES: LOMÉ

Lomé port became West Africa's biggest port in 2017, outperforming Lagos and Accra.

Merchants wait for customers at their stall in the Akodossewa fetish market near Togo's capital Lome August 16, 2006. REUTERS/Tientan Ling


The small West African nation of Togo is not known for being the most advanced or richest in the region. The economies of large neighbors like Nigeria and Ghana greatly exceed that of Togo in size and performance.

However, one thing the Togolese can be proud of today is their country's port infrastructure. From very humble beginnings, the Port of Lomé has risen through the ranks in recent years to become West Africa's most important transhipment hub, finally surpassing Lagos in 2017.

In just four years, the Togolese port more than tripled its cargo throughput handling, from 311,000 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) in 2013 to nearly 1,200,000 TEU in 2017. Cargo handling in most other regional ports either stagnated or dwindled during this same period.

The Lomé port is now the most important transhipment hub in West Africa, according to the most recent port ranking for the region was published by Dutch company Dynamar, which spells great opportunities for Togo.

Aware of the potential economic gains that this position allows, the Togolese government is pushing for investment in further expanding the port's capacity. Following China's announcement of its intention to invest up to USD60 billion in infrastructure in Africa over the next three years, Togo's leaders have pledged to try to secure funding for the expansion of the N°1 National Road (RN1) and the creation of a dry port in the northern part of the country, connecting the Port of Lomé to the hinterland and opening the door to even greater business.

Attached to these, should be the construction of a multipurpose platform at the Autonomous Port of Lomé (PAL) itself. These projects are designed to help make Togo the region's foremost logistics and transhipment leader.

The successes of the Lomé port, however, did not come by chance. Built by a German consortium and inaugurated in 1968, the port saw extensive expansion over the decades, boasting West Africa's only natural deep water port with a 15-meter deep quay. Since the dawn of the 21st century Lomé was managed by the international French group Bolore, which invested over EUR450 million in the construction of a third quay for the port in 2012.

An article on the Togolese website 27avril.com from 2014 raised the question, however, of whether Bolore would have been so forthcoming with that investment if it knew that a consortium composed by China Merchants Port Holdings (CMPort) and Global Terminal Limited (GTL) would be given an exploration license for a new container terminal there soon after.

This put an end to Bolore's monopoly over the transhipment business in the area. The agreement covered the construction and exploitation of the new Lomé Container Terminal (LCT) worth EUR225 million, which included a 1,050 and a 1,350-meter long quays. Regardless of what this move might have meant for Bolore's business in Togo, the impact of the new container terminal, which started operating in 2014, was profound.

By 2017, LCT processed 75% of all the cargo going through the port of Lomé, to the tune of 890 thousand TUE per year. The facility is responsible for the Lomé port achieving the status of West Africa's biggest port and for helping the country enter the African top five of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) ranking in terms of port connectivity. According to the organization's report, Togo's performance has more than doubled since 2010, when it scored 14.2 points on the index. In 2018, it scored 35.9 points.

According to news reports, CMPort, China's biggest port operator, has been recording strong growth in recent years, breaking the record of over 100 million TEU of processed cargo in 2017. While a considerable part of the registered growth came from its assets in China, overseas facilities have also greatly contributed for this business expansion with LCT leading the year on year growth record at 67.5%, followed by the Colombo International Container Terminal in Sri Lanka, which grew by 18.5% compared to the previous year.

While container volume in West Africa has registered a compound growth of over 10% per year over the past 15 years, this figure has been declining in recent years. However, the sector is expected to grow by 5% annually in the run up to 2021, giving ample opportunity for the port of Lomé to continue to grow its influence in the region and further help establish Togo as the transhipment center of the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa.