“Connecting Africa to-itself”: An Interview with Tahirou Barry Traoré, chief executive of Conakry Terminal (BTL)

The number-one private port operator in Africa, Bolloré Transports & Logistics (BTL) is a major player in the development debate in Africa. Head of Conakry Terminal in Guinea, Tahirou Barry Traoré explains the development challenges the continent is currently facing and discusses the vital economic impact women have on the continent.

Posted Tuesday, February 18th 2020
“Connecting Africa to-itself”: An Interview with Tahirou Barry Traoré, chief executive of Conakry Terminal (BTL)

LEADERS LEAGUE. Could you tell us a little about how BTL functions?


Tahirou Barry Traoré. We are a family group present in 107 countries with over 36,500 staff and 21 container ports worldwide. Despite our significant size and global reach, our organizational structure allows us to react rapidly when the need arises and facilitates decision-making processes. It’s that particularity which further allows us to be somewhat autonomous and which offers career possibilities that do not exist elsewhere. At BTL we encourage all our staff to come up with innovative, “out of the box” solutions.



What is your role as chief executive of Conakry Terminal?


A chief executive’s role is to lead the coordination of all our entity’s activities. As chief executive, my main mission is to deal with the different expectations of all involved stakeholders: employees, shareholders, the administration, authorities, etc.        

At Conakry Terminal, we manage and operate the container port in accordance with a concession contract signed between the Guinean state and the Bolloré group. We have 470 collaborators. Our main activity is the handling of containers and vehicles. In order to do so we have developed a very modern terminal and have a large fleet of handling equipment at our disposal. Innovation and transformation play key roles in the sector we work in. Our activity is undergoing significant transformation, which pushes us to constantly reinvent ourselves here at Conakry Terminal.



What role should the private sector in Africa play in addressing logistical challenges?

The private sector in Africa plays an essential role in addressing the continent’s development challenges. It is a significant driver of economic growth and an important source of wealth. In particular, the job opportunities which the sector generates can have a real impact on economic growth in the region. Accordingly, over 5,000 direct and indirect jobs have been created by the Tema harbor development project. The logistics sector is truly at the heart of the continent’s development challenges, and our port activity creates considerable economic wealth for the region.



How exactly do you address these development challenges?


If we want to foster the economic development of our continent, we must increase our focus on promoting free trade between countries in the region but also between our region and the rest of the world. While the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is currently being negotiated, such a project is only feasible by first connecting Africa to-itself. That is where the logistical sector comes into play. To appropriately address the logistical challenges obstructing development in Africa, we have set our new CSR aims under the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. In this regard, we aim to not only advance logistical activities in the region but to further promote Intra African mobility. We want to feel close to the populations of the countries we work in. Most of our collaborators are natives of the region.

We are truly convinced that the standards set by the CSR can have a positive impact on the behavior of firms which have agreed to set and follow such social responsibilities, and thus help foster our continent’s development. This leads back to my prior assertion that the private sector is essential to economic and social development in Africa.



Port congestion is one of the major challenges the Conakry Terminal is currently facing, isn’t it?


Indeed, today we can no longer conceive of ports as disconnected infrastructures, they are integral parts of the urban ecosystem and must be addressed accordingly. Current port congestion is exacerbated by the growing activities and vehicle circulation in the region. According to the OECD, port congestion is responsible for 5 to 7% of GDP loss. Our objective is to reduce the negative impact these flows can have on economic growth and development on the African continent. When conceiving a port infrastructure, it has to be developed as part of an integrated whole to facilitate exchanges (road, rail, dry port, logistics platform). In the specific case of Conakry Terminal, we are currently working, in collaboration with the Guinean state, on a project to develop a dry port in the Kagbelen area in order to relieve congestion on the Kaloum peninsula.    

You are the first female chief executive of the Conakry Terminal. Working in a rather male-dominated environment: what challenges do you face?        

It is indeed a very masculine industry; this is reflected in all the non-management positions. Gaining everyone’s respect and asserting your legitimacy as a woman, in such a unique context, can sometimes be challenging. Yet people’s perceptions are changing. What’s most important, is to have your finger on the pulse as regards to how your workplace functions. A barrier is overcome once you manage to get people to accept and respect you. The group attaches particular importance to diversity and inclusion. Today, more and more women are attaining positions of responsibility and professions "historically" reserved for men.          


What economic impact do women have in Africa and how important do you find female role-models to be?


Women in Africa have the highest entrepreneurial rate in the world, according to a study released by Roland Berger. They have always contributed to the economic activity of our continent and represent a significant part of the labor force of approximately 240 million potential workers. African women have a significant economic impact on all sectors. The issue is that they essentially work in informal sectors, which unfortunately are currently still not properly integrated in states’ wealth measurements (e.g. GDP). Regarding female role-models, I believe that there is no one profile better suited than another. Female role-models exist at all levels, but greater visibility must be attributed to their work. In order to do so, they have to be promoted to key professional positions. We need this diversity: difference is the true source of richness.