When the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) struck Sierra Leone on May 25, 2014, it left the nation in deep shock as to how to respond to a disaster of such magnitude, especially as the country’s medical sector was caught napping. The Government – knowing that dealing with a national disaster as dreadful as Ebola would require the collaboration of all Sierra Leoneans, not least the international community – set out to galvanise both human and material supports to confront and defeat the common enemy. It was no less a personality than the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, who led the national call and social mobilisation efforts that were geared towards rallying the required resources and personnel to lead the EVD fight. It was such a call that was heeded by Bollore Africa Logistic, a French logistics company that manages the operations of the national Port.
Honour, they say, must be given to whom it is due. And now that Sierra Leone has been declared Ebola free following a declaration by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Saturday November 7, 2015, there were key players in the fight whose ‘quiet presence’ in the background greatly impacted the national response in finally eradicating the deadly disease.
The French investors Bollore Africa Logistic, through the operations of its Group in Sierra Leone, proved to be a true concerned and committed corporate citizen whose management stayed in operation throughout the epidemic, supporting the Government and providing much needed services that were vital to the defeat of the virus.
Bollore has been in Sierra Leone for over 36 years. It established in 1979 the Sierra Leone Shipping Agencies Ltd to serve as agents for ships with the operational mandate to facilitate international trade by making easy the movement of vessels in and out of the Port. The company next established the Sea and Land Services Limited in 1989, a clearing and forwarding entity engaged in logistics and transportation services. In March 2011, Bollore took over the management of the container terminal at the Sierra Leone Port through its subsidiary, Freetown Terminal Limited, which was set up specifically to manage the overall operations of the Port.
The decision by the management of Bollore to keep its commitment in providing its mandated services by staying on and operating throughout the period of the Ebola outbreak was a great service to the people of Sierra Leone. The gateway to the country, the Port, was kept open and fully operational throughout the dreaded 18 months of the EVD outbreak, thus giving confidence to ship owners to continue to call at the Port. Also worthy of note is the fact that the company facilitated the import of badly needed emergency medical supplies required to aid the national response. It also kept open the channel of trade necessary for the sustenance of the economy and the nation. Additionally, the professional management of the Port enhanced a well organised and accountable system for the receipt and delivery of emergency supplies.
On the logistical front, Bollore’s subsidiary, Sea and Land Services Ltd, was also deeply involved in the clearing of emergency supplies at both the seaport and airport, providing specialist services to international and local NGOs. Tons of materials and equipment were cleared and safely moved to locations all over the country for the erection and equipping of treatment centres with a very tight time schedule.
As a more direct intervention in the fight, the Bollore Group contributed Le50 million to the Ministry of Health. It as well donated clinical materials to the Marampa community in the Port Loko District, Northern Sierra Leone, and sponsored contact tracing exercises in Constituency 103 by committing the necessary resources and providing the needed materials to aid the process, especially at a time when the virus appeared to be devastating some communities within the constituency. What apparently was considered the most significant contribution made by the company to the Government was the waiving-off of terminal fees on all Ebola cargoes, which amounted to about a billion Leones. Furthermore, keeping the Group operating in such trying times helped to marshall the requisite resources to carry out the national response as Government was short-changed by the already dwindling business activities in the country; the impact of businesses closing down with its attendant ripple effect on employment.
Even before the Ebola invasion in the country, Bollore – as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments – had been fully engaged in providing support to communities in its operational areas in times of need and crisis. The company rendered unrivalled assistance, on two occasions, to victims of the fire incidents at Taylor Street, off Fourah Bay Road and Coconut Farm, off Blackhall Road at Kissy. Bollore has also supported educational ventures by contributing to the construction of schools and providing scholarships to underprivileged children. The company’s equipment, such as fire fighters and container lifters, has been used for the prevention of disasters in communities.
It is indeed laudable that an investor, given the task to finance the restructuring and equipping of the national Port from ground zero with no equipment and low professionalism and esteem, had ploughed in over US$37 million thereby turning around and lifting the standard of the Port to commendable international status.
Bollore has proved to be a true friend of Sierra Leone by demonstrating great faith in the country, contributing to its rebuilding and development as a worthy and dependable corporate citizen.