(Business in Cameroon) - The Cameroon Oil Transportation Company (Cotco) held a board meeting in Douala earlier today July 4, according to sources inside the company. "The first purpose for the meeting was the appointment of new directors for the company,” the same sources said.
According to initial reports from Douala, Cameroonian Bako Harouna (photo) has been appointed head of the company in charge of operating the Cameroonian section of the pipeline through which Chad exports all its oil. Prior to his appointment, Harouna was Deputy Managing Director of the Port Authority of Kribi (PAK). He will be assisted by Chad’s Haoua Daoussa Déby, who was until now the deputy general manager of the Djermaya oil refinery.
This appointment seems to have been accelerated by current events within the company. In a letter dated June 30, 2023, State Minister Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, informed Fuh Calistus Gentry -Secretary of State to the Minister of Mines, Industries and Technological Development- of plans to close the pipeline. According to the letter, the executives appointed by Savannah Energy to head Cotco were threatening to shut down the pipeline. The threats should have been carried out by June 30. However, according to our information, "in view of the serious consequences that would result from the shutting down of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline and the danger that such an action would pose to Cotco," Cameroonian authorities have taken "precautionary measures" to ensure the smooth operation of this infrastructure. Our sources report, for example, the presence on July 4, 2023, of law enforcement officers at the company's headquarters in Douala.
Savannah Energy claims to have acquired 41.06% of the Cotco shares held by the American company Exxon Mobil, earning control of the company. Based on that fact, at a board meeting held in Paris on May 24, 2023, it appointed Nicolas de Blanpré as CEO. However, with the completion of the Société des hydrocarbures du Tchad (SHT) buyout of the 31% of Cotco shares then held by Malaysia's Petronas, N'Djamena took control of the company with 53.77% of the shares. It then organized a general meeting, on the same day and in the same city as Savannah Energy, dismissing all the directors representing Savannah, including Nicolas de Blanpré. The country justified that dismissal by the fact that since Savannah Energy is no longer a member of the consortium operating the Doba field in Chad, it is no longer entitled to hold shares in Cotco under the company’s articles of association.
Things are however not as clear-cut as they appear. Chadian authorities were opposed to Savannah Energy's takeover of Exxon Mobil's assets in their country. So, they nationalized those assets and established Tchad Petroleum Company (TPC) to manage them. The case is still pending before the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris. As a result, despite his dismissal and the appointment of Stéphane Soumahoro as interim CEO, Nicolas de Blanpré continues to act and present himself as CEO of Cotco. "Cotco's Douala offices will be closed on July 4 and 5, 2023. Employees are asked to work from home for those who can," he indicated in a message sent to the staff on July 3, 2023.
By convening a board meeting on July 4, Chad hopes to take real control of Cotco by appointing the company's management. To this end, N'Djamena has asked Yaoundé for "good co-management", as we learned on June 19, 2023, following an audience between President Paul Biya and the Secretary General of the Presidency of the Republic of Chad, Gali Ngothé Gatta, emissary of the Chadian President, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno. This co-management would take the form of the joint constitution of the management team.
Chad also committed, before the CEMAC commission, to cede part of its Cotco shares to Cameroon’s National Hydrocarbons Corporation (SNH).
In a confidential letter sent on June 2, 2023, to the Chadian Minister of Hydrocarbons by SNH Managing Director Adolphe Moudiki, we learn that Cameroon is demanding the cession of 20% of the 53.77% share currently held by Chad in Cotco’s capital. But, Chad is offering to transfer a little over 10%.
It is not yet clear whether the board meeting held earlier today discussed that point. It also remains to be seen what Chad and Cameroon intend to do with the 41.06% of Cotco shares claimed by Savannah Energy as well as how the latter will react to those developments.