In real-false retirement since mid-February, the Breton billionaire, who must sell his African port and logistics empire to MSC, nevertheless retains interests on the continent. And an influential inner circle that includes former heads of state, trusted men and entrepreneurs.
Estimated at 5.7 billion dollars, the transaction, which must be confirmed by March 31, will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of 2022. It must formalize the takeover by the shipowner Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) of the African activities of the Bolloré group in the port and logistics sectors. It is a question of ceding an empire, patiently built over several decades and which today contributes 2.3 billion euros to the turnover of 19.7 billion (in 2021) of the Bolloré group.
The latter, present in 42 ports via 16 container terminals in particular, employs more than 20,000 people on the continent. Yes Vincent Bollore has officially retired since mid-February and if his son Cyrille has taken over the helm of the group since 2019, the Breton billionaire has not really bowed out. Under the influence of legal proceedings for alleged corruption cases in Togo and Guinea, he remains influential and retains valuable relays in Africa.
CEO of the family group since May 2019, Cyrille Bollore, Vincent Bolloré’s third son is the heir. If the father (who officially retired on February 17) remains largely involved in business, it is Cyrille, 36, who leads the negotiations with MSC and in particular with Diego Aponte, the son of Gianluigi, founder of the shipowner taking over Bolloré’s activities. A graduate of Manchester University and Paris-Dauphine, Cyrille, who began his career in 2007 with Bolloré Énergie, is not a regular at African presidential palaces. This did not prevent him from carrying out a demining mission in January in Abidjan with Alassane Ouattara, annoyed to have learned of the assignment in the press.
Yannick BolloreVincent’s youngest son – after Sebastianconsidered distant from the family business but recalled in March within Compagnie de l’Odet, holding company of the Bolloré empire – is the CEO of Havas, global colossus of communication, and the chairman of the supervisory committee of the Canal + group , with a strong presence in Africa (6.85 million subscribers at the end of 2021). Vivendi is also a shareholder of Multichoice, a major pay-TV player in English-speaking Africa.
Finally, Group Vivendi Africa (GVA), a specialist in home fiber optics, has great ambitions in very high-speed internet in Africa and has eight locations on the continent, including Brazzaville, Ouagadougou and Kinshasa, which will open in 2021. GVA was also mentioned by the French group as one of Bolloré’s future growth drivers in Africa, after the announcement of the deal with MSC.
In the corridors of the group’s headquarters in Puteaux, in the Paris region, Philippe Labonne is nicknamed the “heart of the Bolloré reactor” in Africa. Discreet envoy of Vincent Bolloré on the continent for several years, the boss of Bolloré Ports and deputy director of Bolloré Transport & Logistics (BTL) also played the role of Cyrille’s right arm in discussions with MSC. A former auditor with Sitarail and Saga in the Ivory Coast, Philippe Labonne has valuable port know-how. Soon put in the service of MSC?
Former consultant and ex-director of strategic projects at Necotrans, partly acquired by BTL in 2017, Patrick Lawson is the other key man in the port sector. Deputy Director of Concessions and Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) at Bolloré Ports, he also accompanied Cyrille Bolloré in negotiations with MSC.
Michael Calzaronithe founder and boss of DGM Conseil, one of the main public relations companies for CAC 40 companies, has always been in charge of communication for Vincent Bolloré. The latter was one of the first customers of DGM when it was created in 1986. Just separated from his former partner Olivier Labesse, Michel Calzaroni – former communication manager of the CNPF (National Council of French Employers), the ancestor du Medef – is about to turn a page, however: DGM is in the process of being acquired by the economic intelligence group Avisa Partners.
If you say so Martine Coffi Studer close to Martin Bouygues, historical rival of Vincent Bolloré, the former Minister Delegate for Communication (2006-2007) and founder of the consulting agency Océan Ogilvy has chaired the board of directors of BTL Côte d’Ivoire since 2014. The The Ivorian’s address book in Abidjan and in the sub-region is a valuable asset for the Breton boss.
Active in banking, industry and real estate, the Burkinabè entrepreneur Lassine Diawara has long been nicknamed “the man of Bolloré”, promoter of the flagship project – today at an impasse – of the West African rail loop. Diawara met Bolloré in the late 1980s. “I’m a friend of good and bad days,” he says, paraphrasing the French billionaire. Former president of the National Council of Burkinabè employers, he was decisive for Bolloré during the Compaoré years as Kaboré. Although he remains at the head of BTL Burkina Faso, he has begun to withdraw from public affairs over the past two years.
And Hamadou Salimember of the CPDM (ruling party) and chairman of the board of directors (PCA) of Douala International Terminal, is cited as a relay for Vincent Bolloré in Cameroon, he is the very discreet Aoudou DanjoumaPCA of BTL in the country, who is his real key man. As for Diawara, their meeting dates back to the end of the 1980s.
At the head of the local subsidiaries of BTL, Mamadou Racine Sy and Venance Gnigla defend the interests of Bolloré in their respective countries, Senegal and Benin. The first is the boss of the King Fahd Palace and the president of the Federation of employers’ organizations of the tourism industry in Senegal (Fopits). The second is the former Delegate Minister in charge of Communication and New Technologies of Thomas Boni No. In Dakar as in Cotonou, Bolloré has set up CanalOlympia performance halls, a brand of its subsidiary Vivendi. The concept, launched in 2016 in Cameroon, was then extended to ten countries.
On the continent, the influence of Vincent Bolloré, a devout Catholic, also passes through the network of the Don Bosco congregation, on which his group relies for philanthropic actions. Detected by the Salesians of Don Bosco (Society of Saint Francis de Sales), a number of young African talents benefit from scholarships via the Bolloré 2nd Chance Foundation, some then joining the group.
Long-time close friend of Vincent Bolloré and friend of Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, the former French head of state Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) accompanied Cyrille, at the end of January, to Abidjan. As part of the legal proceedings against Vincent Bolloré for corruption in Togo and Guinea – his group is suspected of having favored the re-election of Faure Gnassingbe and the accession to power ofAlpha Conde by under-invoicing Havas communication services during the presidential campaigns in exchange for port concessions in Lomé and Conakry in 2010 and 2011 – witnesses accuse the former French president, then at the Élysée, of having helped his friend. What the interested parties deny.
If the French justice has accepted the payment of a fine of 12 million euros to close the proceedings against the Bolloré group, it has, according to the press, rejected the procedure to plead guilty to Vincent Bolloré, who would therefore risk a trial.
Vincent Bolloré knows several presidents on the continent well, including Faure Gnassingbe, Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Alassane Ouattara. This is also the case of Paul Biyawhich facilitated its establishment in Cameroon in 1992, through the creation of the company Coralma, a subsidiary devoted to tobacco, 60% owned by Bolloré and 40% by Seita (Industrial company for tobacco and matches).
Several former heads of state are also part of the network of the Breton boss, even if the links with some have been stretched. Alpha Condewho met Vincent Bolloré during the years Lansana Conte while he was an opponent returned from exile and living between Conakry and Paris, maintained a closeness once in power from 2010. This seems less the case since his overthrow in September 2021.
Same thing with the former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagboally of Vincent Bolloré to whom he granted by mutual agreement – to the chagrin of the World Bank – the concession for the first container terminal at the port of Abidjan in 2004.