The potential in Liberia

With Liberia’s economic growth projections, the new Monrovia port provides a strong incentive for trade growth in a country dealing with both historical problems and a more recent threat. While the port has only been operational for four years, its impact can already be seen and felt in a variety of ways, as witnessed through the eyes of Jacqueline Paye.

Monrovia
Despite uncertainties connected to the changing and alarming Ebola forecasts, Liberia’s future is also one of high economic growth projections. Photo: Thomas Sonne
Liberia map

Liberia

  • Nearly 70% of Liberia’s four million people are under the age of 29, and 50,000 young people enter the labour market each year.
  • The Freeport of Monrovia handles 90% of Liberia’s trade.

To a foreigner visiting West Africa, Liberia could seem to be a nation against all odds. Still recovering from the trauma of historical conflict, it also faces an immediate threat – the Ebola outbreak.

Despite the uncertainties connected to the changing and alarming Ebola forecasts, Liberia’s future is also one of high economic growth projections.
In support of the country’s economic reconstruction and development, APM Terminals Freeport of Monrovia has been operational for four years. Maersk Line has decided to keep trade lanes open to Ebola-hit countries that would otherwise be isolated, as sea trade is vital for a region that imports a large share of food and other everyday products.

The impact of the terminal is already seen and felt in a number of ways.

Financial security
Jacqueline Paye is a ‘multi-skilled equipment operator’, one of just a handful of the 200 APM Terminals Monrovia employees who are authorised to operate every machine in the yard. And the only female one.

“When I am sitting in my vehicle in the port, I thank God,” she says. “Many of my friends don’t have a job. I have a good job with benefits at a company that has a big name in Liberia. It makes me very proud.”

Jacqueline
Jacqueline Paye. Multi-skilled operator in APM Terminals Monrovia. Photo: Thomas Sonne
Poster image
Watch the interview with Jacqueline Paye 4:13

Many of my friends don’t have a job. I have a good job with benefits at a company that has a big name in Liberia. It makes me very proud.

JACQUELINE PAYE, MULTI-SKILLED OPERATOR, APM TERMINALS MONROVIA

As a Liberian and a 35-year-old single mother living in a country where jobs – and the skills needed for them – are rare, her job offers her financial security. It is a ladder of opportunity for her and her son Joshua.

“Joshua is going to school and I want him to grow up to be a good person,” she says.

Opening the door to trade
Unfortunately, jobs in Liberia are scarce, especially those that provide training such as Jacqueline’s. Nearly 70% of Liberia’s four million people are under the age of 29, and 50,000 young people enter the labour market each year.

Street vendors selling food, drinks, clothes and a variety of other goods line the streets all over Monrovia.

“Everything you see here comes through the port. Without it, the country would grind to a halt. There would be nothing to sell,” says Johnson Liway, a reporter for the Liberian News Agency.

“What we need is more jobs for young people. We need more businesses to come in and set up in Liberia to give people a chance to learn and develop their careers.”

A source of employment
The terminal itself is a sizeable source of employment in Monrovia, with 200 staff working directly for APM Terminals and another 2,000 local subcontractors doing business in the port.

“Of course, we create a certain number of jobs from just operating the port,” says George Adjei, Managing Director of APM Terminals Monrovia. “But our real value comes from building a world-class port with a professional workforce that will make it easier and more attractive for companies to invest and do business here.”

Poster image
Rebuilt in 2011, the port of Monrovia in Liberia is flourishing. 5:20

We create a certain number of jobs from just operating the port. But our real value comes from building a world-class port with a professional workforce that will make it more attractive for companies to invest and do business here.

GEORGE ADJEI, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF APM TERMINALS MONROVIA

As sales manager for Maersk Line in Liberia, 32-year-old Jlue Wolo has a unique vantage point from which to view his country’s changing economy. Maersk Line has been in Liberia since 2001 and was once the only shipping line. Today, the new terminal is attracting competition.

“Before APM Terminals took over the port, the risks kept our competitors away. Theft, safety, operational inefficiency and a lack of transparency are no longer risks,” says Wolo.

“We now have two new competitor shipping lines calling in at Monrovia: MSC and PIL. That’s a credit to the port’s efficiency and processes. Competition also means a better product for our customers, even if it makes my job tougher,” he says, smiling.

New beginnings

One of those customers is Abigail Urey, Liberian co-owner of Edgail Inc. Her company is a scrap metal exporter that is investing in a new business to manufacture and export recycled waste oil, initially to customers in China.

Liberia
Abigail Urey, Liberian co-owner of Edgail Inc., a scrap metal exporter that is investing in a new business, the manufacture and export of recycled waste oil, initially to customers in China.

“The port is a huge improvement. There’s a schedule, one fee and we’re treated as valued customers,” she says.

“With the new business we won’t get second chances with our customers, so every improvement helps. We will depend on the shipping lines and the port to perform as expected, so we don’t break our promises.”

Next steps
In February 2014, APM Terminals put out a tender for another USD 32 million investment in the port. The total investment will reach USD 120 million by the end of the 25-year concession. This latest round will cover the complete paving of the terminal footprint, installation of CCTV security and the construction of a new port office away from terminal operations, to keep staff and customers away from the machines. Completion is expected in two years.

“In our first two years, we had double-digit volume growth,” says Noah Sheriff, Commercial Manager for APM Terminals Monrovia. “In 2013 we fell back a bit due to a variety of economic factors. We were cautiously optimistic about 2014 and have seen flat container volume growth but a boost in general cargo. Considering the impact of Ebola on the region, this was an acceptable result. This year we expect volumes to be 7.8% higher than 2014.”

Maersk Employees
The safety of Maersk employees remains paramount and businesses work to ensure employees are not exposed to the virus.

  • 9,100 tonnes of shipping capacity donated.
  • 66 shipments, carrying food, medicines and vehicles.
  • 59 containers donated for storage spacing.

Maersk helping to fight Ebola
The Maersk Group is committed to assist Ebola-hit countries in West Africa and wants to keep trade links open to ensure supplies are able to come in to these countries and trade is affected as little as possible. The Group has allocated up to USD 1 million to help the United Nations Logistics Cluster’s efforts against the outbreak, including ocean freight and the use of assets such as containers, reefers and forklifts.

As of December 2014, nearly USD 600,000 of those funds has been spent, including the donation of containers to store sensitive equipment and the shipment of vehicles, food and medical supplies to the affected countries to support the work of the humanitarian community.

In October 2014, APM Terminals Monrovia built and handed over an Ebola treatment centre to the Liberian government. The camp consists of 50 tents for up to 100 patients, as well as ten tents to be used as offices for doctors and administrative staff. The tents were made using plastic liners donated by Maersk Line. The camp includes showers, toilets, a disposal site and a visitor centre.