Interview with Ali Traoré, a key actor in transport and logistics in Ouest Africa

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With over three decades of experience in transportation and logistics in Burkina Faso, Ali Traoré is one of the sector’s key players in West Africa. His latest assignment has been to serve as a mentor to Bifasor, providing the startup with his rich expertise. The following interview was conducted in Mr. Traoré’s office in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, during Bifasor’s trip to West Africa in July 2016.

Please tell our readers a little bit about your background.

Ali Traoré: First of all, thank you for this interview and the opportunity that you have given me to speak about the current state of the logistics sector. I am currently the President and Managing Director of Cabinet ITL (Transport and Logistics Engineering Consultancy, in English). We lead studies about the sector and organize training sessions. To my credit, I have more than 30 years of experience. I was the Chairman of the Burkinabé Shippers Council, a member of the Union of African Shippers’ Councils, Managing Director of Maritime Transporters, and former Secretary General of Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Transport and Logistics.

In the course of your functions you have been able to observe firsthand the difficulties obstructing logistics in Burkina Faso and in the West Africa subregion. Can you talk about some of these difficulties?

Ali Traoré: There are many difficulties. One problem paralyzing the sector lies in the widespread reliance on informal actors to perform logistics tasks. It is necessary to professionalize the younger generation, as well as the older generation, especially to give the latter the means to use professional management tools, like transportation management systems. The poor state of transport infrastructure and the problems associated with all too many traffic checkpoints also need to be cited, for both of them contribute to the slow movement and expensive cost of freight transport. It is also important to mention some of the difficulties encountered at ports: border crossing, port costs, transit issues, red tape related to police and customs checks, as well as the payment of incidental expenses. The cost studies that we have undertaken show that the difficulties occasioned by the informal sector are secondary to those caused by officialdom, including those problems experienced at the ports. Therefore, it is fundamental for us to consider ways to streamline the transport chain.
I also wish to highlight another problem that has emerged: own-account transport, which has begun to threaten third party transport. These are companies that have their own trucks and warehouses which they use to carry the goods they manufacture and sell. Owing to this phenomenon, third party transport will shrink, professionals will lose markets, and the public will risk losing the carriers who perform for-hire transport service provision. States must come together to think about how to regulate own-account transport. In Burkina Faso, a number of texts have been written; it is now time implement them.
Regarding the sub-region, and more specifically ECOWAS, the texts adopted by the Heads of States should be implemented, including the Inter-state Transport (TIE) Convention on international transit (Ed. Note: this convention defines the condition of road transport between member states and provides for the transport, without interruption, of freight). All these texts have existed since the 1980s, yet still remain unimplemented. They thus become outdated, which makes it necessary for new texts to be written and new evaluation structures to be developed in order for the subregion to advance.

What is the role of new technologies in transport and logistics at the moment? Do you think they are sufficiently utilized?

Ali Traoré: I think new technologies are not being as sufficiently used as they are in say the US or Europe. Electricity production and digital divide problems can be act as barriers, it is true, but today’s globalized world means that Africa cannot remain on the sidelines of modernization, and that it must advance, despite any difficulties. We must arm ourselves to have enough electricity through alternatives such as solar power, wind power, etc.; there is no problem that doesn’t have a solution. As to the digital divide, without the internet, without new technologies, we become effectively illiterate in today’s world.
However, things are changing with the arrival of innovative projects like yours, which I appreciate and for which I have waited expectantly. I wholeheartedly support such a courageous young team, composed of both men and women, which has decided to tackle such problems head on. I think you will have the support of many people in this sector, because you have had the bright idea to match supply and demand without intermediaries, which will reduce cost and time, address security issues, and bring together stakeholders from Africa and worldwide players. This is all fundamental in today’s world.