Shipping and logistics is a key topic for the public and private sector in Africa, a continent where MSC has been active since the company’s first shipping liner service in 1971.
At a time when the world is seeking to recover from COVID, while tackling the challenges of soaring energy prices and food insecurity from the war in Ukraine, Swiss-headquartered MSC reaffirmed its steady commitment to invest at the 10th Africa CEO Forum.
"I'm a big believer in Africa, because I think the demographics speak for themselves: we all expect that Africa's 1.3 billion people will increase to more than 2 billion people in 30 years or so," MSC CEO Soren Toft said, in a keynote interview with CNN's Eleni Giokos at the conference in Abidjan on 14 June. "If, like MSC, you have a long view over decades, then Africa is a place to invest. GDP-per-capita will definitely increase," he added, referring to Gross Domestic Product, the measure of an economy.
The Africa CEO Forum brings together governments, companies and other organisations to discuss and tackle the major opportunities and challenges facing the continent. This year's programme featured interventions from several serving African presidents and a blend of African entrepreneurs and executives, along with CEOs and board members of multinationals that operate in Africa, such as MSC.
1,800 attendees analysed how global trends are impacting African countries' quest for economic sovereignty. The delegates also included senior managers from MSC's headquarters in Geneva, as well as local country heads from Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo.
Among the other conference speakers was Abdul Samad Rabiu, founder & Chairman of BUA Group, a leading family-owned Nigerian foods, infrastructure, mining and manufacturing conglomerate, who commented on the need to develop infrastructure and strengthen supply chains.
The African family business model was a common topic of discussion at the forum, drawing certain parallels with MSC, which is also family-owned. The closeness of the Aponte family to the MSC business enables the company's management to consider long-term, inter-generational trends and to make decisions in an agile way, among other advantages.
MSC is in the process of acquiring Bollore Africa Logistics, another family-run company, following a 31 March 2022 agreement to purchase all of Bollore Group's African shipping, logistics, transport and container terminals for 5.7 billion euros (USD 6.4 billion). The deal, which is subject to regulatory approvals, has highlighted MSC's intent to continue to grow and invest in the continent’s assets and people.
"Our container shipping services will be able to go to the terminals of Bollore and we will be able to develop those terminals even more as we expand our shipping network," Soren said. "We’re going to welcome more than 20,000 people to the MSC family. My job is to make sure they feel comfortable and welcome, so that they can continue their growth too.”
By investing billions of dollars in the continent, MSC plans to contribute further to the evolution of Africa's maritime and inland transportation networks, building on the past several years which have seen a number of African ports start to berth container ships of 13-14,000 TEUs.
Soren said he was optimistic that Africa would develop larger ports and that in the long term they could one day be better and more productive than some of the world's largest ports. Certain international maritime hubs are currently suffering from congestion following a legacy of under investment, coupled with a systemic lack of joined up thinking with landside logistics networks and labour.
Soren pledged that MSC would continue to "play a pivotal role in world trade", as well as seeking to facilitate smoother intra-regional commerce within the new parameters of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). While MSC has always placed its ocean business at its core, the company has been offering inland cargo transport and logistics services since decades and is familiar with how to invest in the networks and infrastructure required to support them.
Establishing free, fair and affordable trade has been shown to bring populations out of poverty, with both economic and social benefits and Soren expressed his full support for the AfCFTA.
"Our industry connects consumers with producers. It makes trade happen and it pulls people towards prosperity," Soren said. "We have a lot of appetite for growth and Africa is a growing continent."