When the Chinese arrived in Cameroon in 2011 to begin building the first phase of Kribi Deep Seaport, the Central African nation was hopeful of having a new transport corridor that would link its vast southwestern coastal area and neighboring nations.
The main existing port in the commercial hub of Douala, some 150 km to the north of Kribi was virtually worn out by congestion. To increase transport capacity, the China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) set out to construct the Kribi port, and in three years works were completed.
The new port has stimulated the country's economy and provided relief for the harbor at Douala port, the country's most populous city, while also providing dock space for larger ships, said Alain Patrick Mpila Ayissi, Manager of Land development and Environment department of Port Authority of Kribi.
"Since the construction works ended in 2014 and the start of port operations in 2018, there has been notable increase in economic growth. The first indicator is the hikes in the custom revenues as a result of the port. We left from 750 million XAF ($1.26 million) to practically 150 billion XAF per annum," said Ayissi.
As a cheap logistics mode, the port is a fundamental foundation of Cameroon's industrialization process, said Xu Huajiang, general manager of China Harbour Central Africa Division of CHEC who oversaw the construction of the first phase of the port.
"So far, after Kribi (port) was founded, it has attracted a lot of external investment. For example, there is already a cocoa factory invested by Cote d'Ivoire. There are two cement plants under construction. Many logistics enterprises have settled in to build their own yards and warehouses. There are also some Chinese enterprises coming to discuss investment with them in this area," Xu said.
Kribi port is located on the Atlantic coast some 285 km from the capital Yaounde. It is strategically positioned in the center of the Gulf of Guinea and is surrounded by the 262 square km Kribi Industrial Area, destined to host new industrial and logistical developments.
With Cameroon being a growing market, Kribi is expected to become a regional hub for the African Atlantic coast. Ship-owners will no longer run the risk of offloading part of their cargo elsewhere before docking in Cameroon, said Ayissi.
"With the coming of the Kribi port, Cameroon has once again placed herself as the port entry to the sub-region. This (the port) has added more value to certain industrial projects in Chad, Central African Republic and Congo," he added.
As part of the project, CHEC also constructed the Kribi-Lolabe highway that will cater to the requirements of the port transportation and logistics and make a contribution to local prosperity.
The highway which includes the construction of 20 bridges, the total length of which is 2 km will serve as an important traffic artery in the Kribi region.
Currently, CHEC is busy constructing the Kribi Deep Sea Port Phase II. After the completion of the project, it is expected to become a large container transit port and comprehensive hub port in Central and West Africa.
Xu revealed that during the process of port and highway construction, over 1,000 jobs had been provided. Cameroonian workers employed by CHEC, including Eric Defo Fotso, Larissa Ekale Koule and Fran Mbofris told Xinhua that building their country's largest port is an opportunity to update their own skills and contribute to the country's industrialization.
"We have project coordinators with a lot of experience be it in administrative affairs, project management and I got to live the Chinese culture. We get to see different things from what we heard since childhood. Just working with them is like you travelled to China to learn about this (skills)," said Fotso, 32, who coordinates projects at the site.
"Every nation, like Cameroon aspires to emerge. So it's an honor for us to have China and her expertise and who willingly accepted to share it with us," added 26-year-old Koule whose main assignment is to ensure that all onsite workers are in good health and that there are no job-related illnesses.
"They (CHEC) have given us a great opportunity. Our livelihoods have improved significantly," said Mbofris who spent seven years in China teaching the English language and now works as an interpreter with CHEC.
Ayissi said the Kribi port project is a glaring example of Cameroon's participation in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, adding that the country is committed to unlocking the potential of interlinked production networks and value chains.