Interview with Ousmane Jonarteh : Managing Director of Banjul Port

My name is Ousman Jobarteh. I studied port and shipping operations at the University of Wales, College of Cardiff and graduated with an MSc in Ports & Shipping Technology in 1992.

Prior to that, I joined the Gambia Ports Authority as Traffic Officer in February 1991 and rose through the ranks from Traffic manager, Director of Operations, Deputy managing Director and culminating in my appointment as Managing Director in August 2018.

The Port of Banjul is the main entry point for almost 80% of the international trade of The Gambia and it stands as one of the leading enterprises in terms of the socio-economic development of our country because of its importance in handling trade, both in volume and value.

It also serves as a logistics platform for the wider West African market, which has a population more than 250 million and annual trade valued in excess of 500 billion US Dollars. Therefore, it has a huge potential to serve this growing and emerging market within ECOWAS, given the numerous protocols on the free movement of goods and services.

One of the fundamental objectives of Ports, including Banjul, is to provide value for money services. To this end, the Port of Banjul continues to invest in facilities and services to match the increasing demand posed on its facilities by shipping lines and cargo owners to lower overall costs and increase efficiency.

To address these challenges, the Port of Banjul has prepared a development blueprint by way of a New master Plan to guide the infrastructure development needs of the port going forward. This is accompanied by a Business Plan that will strategically rebrand and reposition the port vis-à-vis regional competition in West-Africa.

I said earlier, we have an infrastructure development blue-print which will guide Government in terms of the institutional arrangements and facility upgrades that will be aligned with the need to allow a private-public partnership.

The Port of Banjul is aware that the fashion in port infrastructure financing is through the concession model and the Port Banjul is no exception.
But as a Government, there is a commitment to go through a process that will undoubtedly achieve value for money for the asset.

The partnership is growing from strength to strength as the results are manifesting. Since we started the cooperation, groups of personnel numbering at least 20 have been sent twice annually on training at this centre. For the past three years, it would mean that more than forty staff would be sent on that training, mostly to do tailor made training in mechanic and cargo handling simulation in port operations.

This is conceived against the background that, as the saying goes in Human Resources Development, that “if you think training is expensive, try ignorance”. This goes to demonstrate that no amount about training is enough because people acquire new skills and competences. Of all the assets we have in the port, human resources are the most important. It could be noted that, as opposed to the physical infrastructure, people can actually contribute more meaningfully towards efficiency improvement with the acquisition of new skills and competence and which will result in improved performance and productivity. Personnel are becoming increasingly aware about safety concerns, environmental protection and productivity, all of which are cross cutting issues as far as port operations are concerned. The relationship with CFMPL is growing to the extent that staffs look forward to it as a source of motivation. 

The vision is to reposition the Port of Banjul to serve the huge West African market and the advantage the country has is its navigable River, which enhances its degree of penetration in the vast hinterland.

There is a cardinal rule in transport economics that high-volume low-value cargo is cheaper in terms of cost per ton mile by river compared to road. Utilizing River transport will enhance attractiveness of the country within the sub region. 

We have biannual action plan we implement. The two sister ports do send staff on training and also collaborate at international fora for our common benefit. There is also a technical assistance programme, from which both sister ports leverage their strategic advantages for the benefit of the other port. Staff exchange program and cultural events are equally pursued, making the relations with Dakar Port strong.

About Tema Port, we are both Anglophones and we participate at the level of Port Management Association of West & Central Africa (PMAWA) and the same level of collaboration is pursued as the one with Dakar.

It’s a good initiative and sensitization is very important because our population has the right of access to information. People becoming aware about the importance of this public asset in their livelihood.

Ports are economic outfits and all the work we do, has a direct impact of social living of our societies. So to have a magazine which is going to connect the ports and enlighten the people about service provision will serve to improve economic performance. It’s a good medium to sensitize people generally and encourage. The magazine is coming to sensitize people of having control in hole value chain.