The new locomotive of Western Africa


The birth of the Port Authority of Douala (PAD) at the dawn of the Third Millennium did not happen by chance. It was the tangible result of institutional reforms of the ports sector in Cameroon undertaken as a proof of the Cameroon government’s determination to make the country’s economy ever more competitive and capable of generating wealth by adapting it to international context that is mainly characterized by an intensification of economic exchanges across the borders.

Placed under the tutelage of the Ministry in charge of Transportation, the PAD is a legal self-sufficient entity.

In a bid to cope with the changing conditions of its environment, marked these last years notably by the trend of liberalization of the economy, the PAD has been experiencing for quite some time structural adjustments which have added more impetus to is activity.
The implementation of a series of measures was made necessary by the economic context, which makes competitiveness and profitability the fundamental laws of all units of production. These measures aimed at:

  • Regrouping activities by homogeneous fields of interests, thus promoting the specialization of operational departments to increase their efficiency

  • Upgrading the senior management by the creation of functions directed towards the long term

  • Ensuring the greatest coherence in orientations and actions of development by the creation of entities use as platforms for consultation involving as many economic operators as possible;

  • Clarifying the scope and the content of the relationships with the state, the sole shareholder of the PAD, on the one hand, and on the other hand, with the customers. These relationships should be governed by conventions, specification books and other contractual documents



    History and nature, as well as economic factors, have made Douala-Bonaberi Port, up to now, the main maritime outlet of Cameroon.

    This port alone handles more than 95% of the country’s total maritime traffic.
    If Douala Port and its neighbourhoods concentrate about 80% of the industries in Cameroon, which makes the area the economic capital of the country, credit should probably be given to its port.

    As an estuary port, at about 50 km from the sea, it enjoys two main advantages, namely:

  • The reduction of the distance between the sea and the production and consumption areas

  • The presence of calm waters, which allow commercial operations to take place in optimal conditions.
    A widespread network of air, railway and road transports covers the whole region, thus allowing an easy transfer of goods to the hinterland.

    In all respects, Douala is currently the main business centre in Cameroon.

    General description

    Douala-Bonaberi port has developed following the speed of the economic growth of Cameroon. Over the past two decades, most of the means made available for the port sector have been allocated to Douala.

    The period comprised between the early 70’s and the mid 80’s was a decisive step in the development of this port through the realization of major rehabilitation and modernization works, followed by additional projects of equal importance.

    After completion of this vast programme which lead the Douala Port to modernization, its capacity more than tripled, as it went from about 2 million tons to more than 7,5 million tons a year.

    On the whole, the Douala port presents a physical potential comprising, among others, the following facilities:

  • 7,5 million tons of cargo output;

  • 11 million tons of storage capacity;

  • 1,000 hectares of land estate of which 400 hectares are been exploited;

  • 10 km of quays (including wet dock outlines)

  • 20 km of road network;

  • 25 km of railways;

  • 13 multi-purpose warehouses;

  • 2 long term storage areas;

  • 20 hectares of land yard initially destined for the traffic of land-locked countries, but which are now partly allocated for the free trade zone;

  • an important port industrial zone

  • Various facilities for specialized traffics: containers, timbers; fishing; fruits; oil; etc…


    Douala is an estuary port located on 04°03’5 latitude North and 09 41’8 longitudes East.

  • Ships have access to the port passing through a 50 km long channel divided into two parts of equal length (the inner channel and the outer channel) and marked out by lighted buoys of the uniform lateral system.

    The inner channel, 150 m wide, is regularly dredged at the official water depth of 5.8 m. actions are being taken to improve this draft both by acquiring additional dredging equipment and by implementing an appropriate for the management of the channel which would conciliate efficiency and national sovereignty.

  • A network of self-registering tidal gauges and a SYLEDIS radiolocation system cover the whole wour; estuary to ensure the maritime navigation in optimal conditions of safety, but also for hydrography and dredging work.

  • In a more or less near future, all ports in the country will be equipped with a telecommunication network and an automatic fire detection, alarm and extinction system.

  • The Harbour Master’s office fulfils the traditional duties relating to safety and continuous control of the traffic flow, sets the order of ships arrivals and departures and caters for almost all navigation movements (pilotage, towage, inshore pilotage, oil tankers watch.)

  • A fresh water and hydrocarbon supply system meets the demand of the customers.


    For decades, the traffic of the Douala Port has shown a sustained growth at an annual average rate of 10%. It reached its highest level in 1985, with more than 4,5 million tons of cargo handled.

    Because of the well know difficult economic environment, it went down as from the year 1986 and remained stable around 3.7 million tons until 1993.
    IN 2000, the global traffic was about 5 503 623 tonnes.
    For the same period, the traffic was composed of:

  • 2 263 084 tonnes for the exportation;

  • 3 240 589 tonnes for the importation;

  • 3 422 ships reached the Port of Douala.


    Adequate facilities have been made available to meet the constraints that go with the handling of certain types of traffic, in terms of space, water draft, productivity, security, stain, etc…

    This is the case for the following traffics.


    The container traffic is essentially concentrated in Douala; it was launched in the early 70’s and only numbered a handful of boxes.

    Some fifteen years later, it reached 100,000 boxes for 1,000,000 tons of containerised cargo.

    Like the general cargo traffic, it showed a decline from 1987. Today, it amounts to 70,000 boxes representing 800,000 tons of cargo.

    The equipment available to handle this traffic includes:

  • 500 m of quay dredged at 11.5 m

  • Two (2) ro-ro traffic ramps;

  • Two (2) dolphins;

  • A shed for the stuffing and unstuffing of containers;

  • Yards destined for imported vehicles.

    The capacity of the terminal is estimated at 1.5 million tons per year.

    Timber traffic

    Both in volume and value, wood is currently one of the main Cameroon’s export products.

    Thanks to the decrease in the offer from Asian Countries to which should be added the positive effects of the evaluation of the CFA franc, Cameroonian wood gained high appreciation on the world market.

    Its traffic thus recorded outstanding growths in the last four years. In 1994, it went over 1,000,000 tons, thus accounting for more than 60% of Cameroonian exports.
    In 2000, 494.064 tonnes have been registered against 696.165 tonnes in 1999.
    The handling of this traffic is organized around a wet dock with the following facilities:

  • 20 hectares of water area;

  • About 40 hectares of stocking yards;

  • 150 m of quay for the loading of non-floating timbers.

    The annual capacity of the terminal is 2 million tons.


    Coastal fishing (9,000 tons in 1994) and the importations of frozen fish (58,000 tons in 1994) all together generate an annual traffic of 60,000 tons.

    Facilities destined for this traffic are also built around a wet dock located upstream of the general cargo port.

    The include:

  • 600 m of quay;

  • A fish-market of 3,500 m2;

  • A cold store of 4,500 m2;

  • An ice-factory with a daily production capacity of 150 tons

    The annual capacity of this unit is 70,000 tons.


    The traffic of fruits is essentially made up of bananas exports, which have witnessed a steady growth for the last four years.

    After a long period of stagnation up till 1990, with about 60,000 tons, this traffic increased to around 190,000 tons in 1994. Future prospects of growth are good.

    These performances lead, a few years ago, to the creation of a multi-purpose terminal which can received both fruits and general cargo. Its equipment comprises:

  • 600 m of quay dredged at 11 m;

  • A shed of 6,500 m2

  • Modern handling equipment.


    Oil research in the littoral region has justified the development of two zones to serve as logistical support to this activity. These zones comprise:

  • Upstream: 50 hectares of prepared land and 350 m of quay dredged at –6m;

  • Downstream: 50 hectares of equally prepared land and 575 m of quay dredged at –5,50 m.

    For the reception of oil tankers two dolphins were made available in the offing of the industrial quay.

    Ships repair

    A new impetus was given to this activity with the creation, some ten years ago, of a self-sufficient entity, with para-statal statue, the CAMEROON SHIPYARD AND HEAVY INDUSTRY. It took over from the Ports Authority all activities relating to ships repair.
    Existing facilities comprise for now:

  • Three (3) floating docks of 500, 1000 and 10,000 tons capacity respectively;

  • 200 m of quay;

  • A workshop equipped with various machine tools.

    Studies are underway to provide this unit with a definite site, which offers better working conditions. Its present good performances entitle it to play a vital role in the sub-region.


    Undubitably, Douala asserts itself as an important industrial platform. Most of the industries in the country are indeed, found in this city and its immediate vicinities.
    Far from being incidental, this situation is due to the fact that this region enjoys a good number of advantages such as:

  • The wealth of commercial activities;

  • The density of transportation and communication infrastructure;

  • The availability of abundant labour-force;

  • The proximity of the port.

    The combined effects of these factors have allowed the development through MAGZI (Industrial Zones Development Authority) of two important industrial sites, one in Bonaberi, at the right bank of the Wouri river, the other in Bassa, in the East of the town.
    These offer to the industry vast prepared spaces with various facilities: roads, railways, telephone, telex, telefax, all connected to the national transportation and telecommunication networks


  • 200 m, of quay dredged at –8.5 m to which should be added 150 m of quay initially destined for banana traffic.

  • 2 discharging cranes equipped with aerial rolling belts of 1000 tons/hour capacity.


  • 280 m of quay dredged at –8.5 m especially allocated to aluminium and alumina traffics

  • 8 conveyor belt;

  • 6 silos of 1,600 tons capacity each.


    Two main achievements have marked the functioning of the Douala port to improve the operating conditions.

    The first one has to do with the demarcation of the port, according to the nature of the traffic, into various units known as terminals, with the aim to bringing together, on the same spot, all the services needed by a port operator for this commercial activities: ports authority, customs, shippers council, shipowners, stevedoring companies, etc…

    This new organization leads to the system of UNIQUE PAY COUNTERS, which bear obvious advantages in terms of improved security of goods and men, and reduced time for administrative procedures, which could otherwise be a serious obstacle for the traffic flow.


    The regional impact of the Douala port can be measured through the scope of its hinterland, which goes far beyond the national boundaries to cover a good number of other countries in the sub-region.

    Neighbouring countries such as CHAD and CENTRAL AFRICA, which have no direct access to the sea, and to some extend the northern part of CONGO, thus fall within the hinterland of the Douala port.

    Two main reasons have leaded the Douala port to play this role, namely:

  • Its position as a turning point between West and Central Africa;

  • The physical potentials that it has been provided with over the last ten or fifteen years,

    These advantages, both conquered and natural, give this port a regional vocation, which is being confirmed year after year.

    All investment programmes carried out in the Douala port have always taken into account, both the needs of Cameroon’s external trade and those of the neighbouring land-locked countries, as concerns certain specialized traffics for which the Douala port offered better handling conditions. This is the case for instance of the container traffic.

    For this reason, a long-term storage area was made available in the late 1970’s to receive the traffic of UDEAC zone countries and particularly those of Chad and Central Africa.
    This area covers a space of 20 hectares initially prepared to receive seven (7) warehouses of 6,500 m2 each and a motor-park of 2.2 hectares.

    The following facilities, among others, are provided:

  • Connections with water, electricity, telephone, fax and telex network;

  • Road infrastructures linked to the south entrance of the Douala-Yaoundé highway;

  • A railway network connected to the transcamerounian railway line which link Douala to Ngaoundéré with road extensions to Chad and Central Africa.

    The international status of this zone is guaranteed by inter-states agreements, which bind Cameroon to its partners.

    As these facilities have not been fully exploited as formerly planned and given the necessity to make this investment of more than 6 billion CFA franc profitable, the area will be partially allocated to the activities of the industrial Free Trade Zone.

    In addition to these physical and material amenities, the traffic of land-locked countries passing through the Douala port benefits from privileged commercial conditions including the reductions by 50 and 25% respectively for port dues on goods and cargo-handling charges.

    Measures are underway to add more convenience to the traffic on transit at the Douala port especially as concerns:

  • The improvement of inter-states communications links;

  • The reorganization of road and railway operators;

  • The increase in the potential of transportation means (lorries, truck, etc…)

  • The improvement of administrative formalities relating to the transit of cargo

  • The reduction of checkpoints by the forces of law and order whose actions should be circumscribed to security concerns.

  • Douala port looks forward to reinforcing its regional role by having a global approach in handling problems affecting the traffic flow.


    The Douala Port Community named “PORT SYNTHESE” was created in November 1994 under the auspices of the CNPA.

    The newly created body aims at an integrated approach of port activities as opposed to a fragmentary vision of the problem of this sector.

    It is meant to serve as a platform for dialogue and consultation for all economic operators involved in a more or less direct manner in port activities.

    The purpose is to allow them to put together their resources to achieve a number of goals, through cohesion in effort and conviviality made possible by such an alliance, being fully aware of the complementary nature of their actions and the solidarity of their interest, in the quest for the improvement of the global competitiveness of the port.

    Although the port community has always existed actually with the presence of a maritime site where various operators carry on their business, the novelty here has consisted in the institutionalisation of this structure, which becomes a formal entity involving the liability of its members.

    The action of this body is essentially geared towards the promotion of Douala as a regional and international port centre. Other issues of major interest are also examined, namely: the facilitation of procedures relating to the transit of cargo, information and communication, research and development.


    Amongst the four port entities placed under the responsibility of the Ports Authority, three are known as “secondary ports” because of the relatively low level of their traffic.
    Several factors have contributed to weaken their position as years go by among these could be retained notably:

  • Their physical environment which limits the operating conditions to lighter age whose constraints cannot cope with the current requirements in productivities

  • The technological gap between their equipment and the present standards in maritime transports

  • The development of other modes of transportation (rail-way, road) which have become more competitive

  • The disturbances noted in the trade flow because of uncontrolled issues occurring in the region.

    Although heavily handicapped, these ports still play an important role for the economy of the regions the serve.

    This is why whenever need arises actions are taken to maintain operating conditions on an acceptable level.

    It is however certain that the lasting solution to the preoccupying problems of the secondary ports will be found with the construction of deep-sea ports on more viable sites.


    Kribi is the most prosperous of the secondary ports. It is located on 02° latitude North and 09° 12’2 longitude East.

    Its main activity over the pass few years has been limited to the exports of timbers.
    The annual traffic varies between 100,000 and 120,000 tons.
    The equipment comprises:

  • A quay of 250 m

  • A timber yard of 7,000 m2

  • 73,000 m2 of unsealed stocking yards

  • 2 warehouses of 6,000 and 2,500 m2 stocking capacity each

  • 2 beacons


    Limbe-Tiko port complex is situated on 04° 00’5 latitude North and 09° 12’2 longitude East.

    This port is the one that suffered the most from the inadequate equipment as regards the traffics requirements, a handicap to which should be added the competition from land transport.

    For many years, the activity in this port has not been normal. However, due to a programme of rehabilitation and relaunching of activities carried out quite recently, it has witnessed some revival, as its traffic increased between 1994 and 1995 from a few hundreds of tons to more than 20,000 tons.

    The equipment in service comprises:

  • A berthing wharf;

  • A water-houses of 1,638 m2 each;

  • A shed equipped with a slipway;

  • A timber stocking yard;

  • 3 fixed cranes.


    Situated on 09° 19’ latitude North and 13° 21 longitude East, Garoua is a seasonal river port, which serves the northern region of Cameroon and also part of the neighbouring TCHAD and NIGERIA.

    Hostilities in Nigeria in the late 1960’s, followed by the closure of the borders in the mid 1980’s, added to the severe climatic conditions, which prevailed in this regions for many years, have heavily and durably penalized the activity of this port.

    Since 1986 its traffic has hardly exceeded 10,000 tons.

    Equipments are made up of:

  • 250 m of quay;

  • 12,000 m2 of stocking yards;

  • 6 warehouses.


    In fact, despite the constraints of the international maritime environment (concentration of services provides, increased ship size) and those resulting from the countries economic recovery program, PAD is working hard, determined to meet it’s major challenges, namely:
    Ensuring the success of the operational reforms of the whole sector
    Exploring all opportunities open to the port to use its full potential and broaden it sources of revenue. These facts make it possible to better refocus the major projects, which characterize the port of tomorrow:

  • Improvement of access. The channel is regularly dredged with the mid-term aim of hosting ships with 11 meters draft, while maintaining the signalisation is totally functional

  • Modernisation of the infrastructures and superstructures

  • Development of the logistics functions of the port Douala is determined to take advantage of the economic role played by the city to consolidate its position as the logistic platform of trade, that is typical of 3Rd generation ports (development of long-duration storage capacity, bonded warehouse, packaging, distribution, provision of current information, banking services)

  • Development of partnership with the private sector

    Being the cornerstone of institutional reforms in the ports sector, it aims to develop a comprehensive cooperation with the key actors of the private sector by granting concessions for some industrials and commercial activities.


    It is major option of the government to make this process successful. This determination was obvious in the drafting of the reform laws, which has prominent points the separation of management and regulation functions of the port sector. The Cameroon National Ports Authority (CNPA) formerly took these two prerogatives. The reformed to the creation of the National Ports authority, the creation of four autonomous ports and the creation of the Consultative Orientation Comitees (CCO) made up representatives all operators, shippers, administrations in the port place. The CCO is invited to give an opinion on any major investment or decision in the port.

    The quest of competitiveness has far reaching consequences. As a matter of fact, the preoccupations that led to easing procedure and that reducing the time and cost of transaction in our port contributes to the national policy of poverty alleviation. This paved the way to the involvement of both economic operators and users in the management and execution of commercial and industrial activities to regain the confidence of the public as well as foreign creditors, partners and investors.

    Shifting activities of commercial and industrial nature previously managed by a government agency in the hands of the private sector, is not only a drastic move toward achieving efficiency and accountability, but a clear manifestation of the government’s will to get very single actor fully committed to their success of these profound reforms; This will enable the state to refocus its position as well create a conducive atmosphere that breeds confidence not only in the sector, but in all business activities

    The success of PAD conditions that of the national economy, and contributes to that of the central African sub region. The management and Staff of PAD are totally committed and do work hard to attain that goal.

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    You can find the version published in Forbes Global or Far Eastern Economic Review

    World INvestment NEws, 2001. This is the electronic edition of the special country report on Cameroon published in Forbes Global Magazine, October 1st, 2001. Developed by Agencia E.