Africa. The French Group Bolloré Changes Strategy.
The sale of the logistics segment to the Mediterranean Shipping Company of the Italian-Swiss shipowner Gianluigi Aponte opens up new scenarios. The Bolloré dynasty looks to communication, agriculture and energy.
The change had been in the air for a while now, but the official announcement came shortly before Christmas: Bolloré sold its transport and logistics activities in Africa to the Italian-Swiss Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). The sale of Bolloré Africa Logistics (BAL), for a total value of 5.7 billion euros, represents a significant turnaround for the French group. 250 branches in 47 countries, 16 container terminals, river ports, 74 shipping agencies, three railway concessions and a turnover of more than two billion euros: these are the numbers of the company, the flagship of the group. According to the words of the new owner, Bolloré Africa Logistics will remain autonomous and will keep the current president while only the brand will change.
The declared objective of the Italian-Swiss shipowner Aponte is to improve the connectivity of the continent with the rest of the world and guarantee internal trade. The MSC, in fact, in addition to ensuring continuity in the management of the ports, has announced new investments: shipyards, container terminals, storage facilities, roads and railways.
Many hypotheses have emerged in recent months to explain the reasons for the sale: from the increased Chinese competition in the logistics sector to the legal troubles linked to the port concessions, up to the difficult political relations with French president Emmanuel Macron. Equally complex is being able to identify the group’s new strategies on the continent. The only certainty is that Bolloré will not leave Africa. ‘The Bolloré group will maintain an important presence in Africa, in particular through Canal+’, reads the press release that formalizes the sale ‘and will also continue to develop sectors such as communication, entertainment, telecommunications and publishing’.
Canal + Multichoice
The development strategy, once the money from the sale has been collected, seems therefore to be directed toward communication and entertainment. Today Bolloré owns nearly 30% of Vivendi, a French media company, and about 18% of Universal Music Group, a record label considered one of the leaders in the music industry.
In 2019 it also acquired the Editis publishing group. To corroborate the hypothesis of a greater commitment by Bolloré in the entertainment sector there are: the performance of Canal + and the participation in Multichoice. Canal + has become one of the leaders in cinema and TV and made a 6% profit in the first half of 2022.
Active for 30 years in Africa, it now reaches 7 million subscribers in French-speaking countries. It offers 35 channels, many of which are in official African languages. The group has also recently set up in Ethiopia with 9 channels in the Amharic language. The company has also invested in the production of local dramas, to ensure new annual releases.
The Bolloré group’s interest in television entertainment is also expressed in its involvement in Multichoice, a South African company that manages a satellite TV system in English-speaking African countries.
Today the shares of Multichoice in the hands of Canal + amount to 26%. In the field of communication, Vivendi Africa is responsible for extending the fibre optic network. Since 2015, it has connected one and a half million users belonging to the middle class, in countries where Canal+ also operates. It is present in 12 cities in 7 African countries. The goal is to become a reference player for the very high-speed internet network in Africa. The entertainment and media sector is not the only one the group plans to focus on.
In the words of Cyrille Bolloré, third son of the tycoon Vincent, now head of the group, logistics remains one of the key areas in which the Puteaux-based company will continue together with the development of supply chains. The agricultural experience of the group in Africa, until now, has been limited to the cultivation and transformation of palm oil and rubber, through participation in the Belgian-Luxembourg Socfin.
The company is accused by local and international NGOs of land grabbing, pollution and violation of human rights. The latest investment front is energy storage through the subsidiary Blue Solutions.
According to Fabricio Protti, deputy CEO of the group, this activity is an opportunity for the African continent in search of solutions to conserve the energy also produced from renewable sources, such as wind and solar. There is another company that remains firmly in family hands. This is the Havas advertising dealership. An activity that Vincent used to strengthen his network of relationships with African heads of state. Cyrille Bolloré belongs to a different generation than that of African leaders, but it is realistic to think that he will maintain the relationships started by Vincent. A demonstration of how to operate: it is a matter of switching from port concessions to freight forwarding and, in particular, to the management of transport and logistics services for large companies.
Cyrille Bolloré, who took over from his father after his official retirement in February 2022, also wants to explore the agricultural sector. The project provides for the technical and financial support of the farmers. This hypothesis comes from the words of Deputy Protti, who guarantees continuity in the countries in which BAL operates as insurance for future investments. Further confirmation is the news of the visit of Cyrille Bolloré to Alassane Ouattara, in the Ivory Coast, accompanied by the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy in the role of mediator. The meeting, held last January, was supposed to help the Ivorian authorities digest the sale to MSC and ensure continuity. (Open Photo: Container ship MSC Zoe. CC BY-SA 2.0/ kees torn)