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October 03, 2010

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Peter

A bit of research shows that much of Congo's oil imports come through the small port of Banana (!), which is located very close to the ocean. What about upgrading that port, and adding better road/rail links to the rest of the country? This would allow for an all-Congo routing, unlike the Pointe Noire alternative.

Doug M.

Hi Peter,

Good catch. I deliberately left Banana out, because it gets complicated. But, since you asked...

Banana is right at the end of the Congo estuary, on the north bank, 150 km downstream from Matadi. It has a nice natural harbor! Unfortunately, the Belgians chose to develop Matadi instead. Made sense, because Matadi was further up the river, right at the base of the rapids -- they spared themselves building 150 km of railroad through a mixture of hills and swamp.

Today, yes, most oil imports come through Banana -- because most oil production is offshore from Banana. Mobutu built an oil pipeline that runs all the way from Banana to Matadi and then inland to Kinshasa, so that crude could be pumped straight from Congo's offshore oil platforms. He dreamed of an oil refinery complex in Kinshasa! It never happened, but the pipeline is still there.

Unfortunately, there's not much else there. As noted, Banana has a nice natural harbor -- but to make it a proper ocean port would require several hundred million dollars of investment. Wharves, quays, cranes, warehouses, dredging... and then a road/rail link over that 150 km to Matadi, because otherwise there's no point.

Congo doesn't have several hundred million dollars. So, stuff will continue to go through Matadi. (Or maybe, as noted above, Pointe Noire.)


Doug M.

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