Neo-colonialism is no longer based on the military occupation of developing countries and the slave trade, but the substance has changed little. Fragile democracies, especially in Africa, are victims of coups, inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts, corruption, but above all of the interference of foreign capital and the military ‘aid’ of the great powers, who hand over machine guns in exchange for hectares of land, mining and oil exploitation licences, and contracts on the basic infrastructure of each country.

At the head of those who exploit Africa are certainly the mining and diamond trading companies, but, with the passage of time and the progressive improvement of local economic conditions, now is the time of those who control distribution, logistics, telecommunications. In this sector, the winner is someone who has already invested for years, and has spent the first quarter of this century creating a network of indissoluble links with local power. We are talking about a French industrial group, which started with a paper factory, and which today is one of the major international powers – that of the Bolloré family.

This year, the Bolloré group celebrates its 200th anniversary, in which the small Breton company has become one of the 500 largest corporations in the world: with 73,000 employees in 130 countries, a turnover of 20 billion euros and 34 billion in equity (2021)[1]. Listed on the Paris Stock Exchange, control remains in the hands of the Bolloré family through a complex network of shareholdings. Thanks to its diversification strategy, based on innovation and globalisation, the group is a three-headed power: transport and logistics, communications, storage and electrical systems[2]. Not forgetting the historical paper industry, energy distribution, plastic films, car manufacturing, agriculture and media[3].

The Bolloré group from 1822 to today

Summer 1949: the arrival at the factory of rags to be processed into cellulose[4]

In 1822, near Quimper, on the river Odet in Brittany, Jean Guillaume Bolloré and his brother-in-law Nicolas Le Marié[5] (mayor of Ergué-Gabéric from February 1832 to January 1833[6]) laid the foundation stone of the ‘Papeteries Bolloré’ paper mill[7]. initially producing ‘heavy’ packaging and later thin paper, such as tea bags, soft drink paper, cigarette paper, filters and parchment paper[8]. Nicolas Le Marié held the reins of the (family-run) factory for 40 years, but then suffered a stroke after a fall and, as he had no heirs to succeed him (his sons had died and his surviving daughter was in religious orders), he had to hand over the baton to his nephew[9]; thus the company took on a new name in 1861, when doctor Jean-René Bolloré took the business into his own hands[10].

In the same year, the fashion for cigarettes also arrived in France and the Bolloré family renovated a mill some thirty kilometres from Odet, in Cascadec, to increase production. Copying paper for letters, cotton paper for celluloid and tissue paper became secondary products and all efforts were put into the production of cigarette paper[11]. The group’s image has long been associated with this product (France produced more than half of the world’s cigarette paper in the 1940s and 1950s[12]) and Jean-René Bolloré, on his death in 1881, left his son René-Guillaume an international standard of excellence[13]. In 1918, the OCB brand was born: ‘Odet-Cascadec-Bolloré’[14], with up to 630 employees, which remained the centre of the group until 2000, when it was sold to the Republic Tobacco group[15].

In 1929, the Bolloré factories produced almost 2000 tonnes of paper reels and 86 million books of one hundred sheet cigarette paper. Until the war, the Bolloré group exports more than 90% of its production. The company supplies the American brands Camel, Chesterfield, Philip Morris and Old Gold. The rest of the production is sold to the Régie française des tabacs and British American Tobacco[16]. René-Guillaume Bolloré’s grandson, also called René, was the director of ‘Papeteries Bolloré’ from 1935 to 1974 – with the exception of the war years: during the occupation, only one of them operated at 20% of potential[17]. After the war, the factory produced fine paper, cigarette paper and book paper, all now sold on an increasingly international market under the management of the René brothers and the young Michel[18].

In its Christmas issue of 1949, the magazine Réalités[19] presented the company in eight pages with magnificent colour photos[20]: ‘The overall economic weight of the three factories (Odet, Cascadec and Troyes) is not negligible: “With 1,500 workers, these factories produce 20 tonnes of paper a day – the length of the reels produced in a day would go round the world – ten million hundred-sheet notebooks a month and achieve a turnover of 1,300 million a year[21]. Each factory specialises in one product, reducing costs. A success made possible thanks to a bold investment plan: in three years, more than 200 million francs are allocated to renew equipment, bringing in new machinery from the United States, Germany and Great Britain[22].

Enters Vincent Bolloré

Family photo from 1949: René Bolloré (top left); René Bolloré (top right), father of the current owners: the eldest son René (all the elders of the family have this name), president of the company (bottom left), and Guennaël Bolloré, the youngest of the three brothers (bottom right)[23]

The family business became a true empire under the impetus of Vincent Bolloré (Michel’s nephew); together with his brother Michel-Yves, Vincent took over the management of the paper mills in 1980-1981, and took over the company, which was in great difficulty[24], reducing salaries by 30% and focusing on tea bags and ultrafine metallised paper, used in the capacitor industry: the operation worked, and Bolloré Technologies was born, which five years later was the world leader in the sector[25].

Michel-Yves Bolloré managed the industrial part of the group and led the exit from the paper sector to specialise in a very specialised technological (polypropylene) and industrial (ultrafine) niche[26]. The Bolloré group is therefore protected from any takeover attempts by large global groups, who would rather use the high-tech products (films and thin plastics) of the Bolloré group than buy the company.

Vincent, trained in finance through experience at the family ally, Baron Edmond de Rothschild’s finance company (Vincent was only 23 years old and was already the Deputy Director of the finance company[27]), transformed the group into a conglomerate, mixing financial holdings and industrial investments[28]. In 1997, he took control of the Rivaud bank[29], which was in a serious crisis due to two events: a delicate tax audit and the failure of one of his investments, that in the airline Air Liberté, which almost went bankrupt and was then sold to British Airways – a financial operation that was decisive for the creation of the Bolloré empire[30].

On the Parisian financial market, Vincent Bolloré made himself known and feared. In 1992 he got his hands on the family holding company Compagnie financière Delmas-Vieljeux (CMA-CGM group)[31], which he then merged with his SCAC[32] (Société Commerciale d’Affrètement et de Combustible), acquired from Suez in 1986[33]. This purchase enabled the Bolloré Group to obtain a prominent position in the transit and handling sector in France and Africa[34]. The only link in the logistics chain that the Group sells is maritime transport, so Saga Italia (the Italian forwarding company specialising in services for the oil and gas industry[35]) and the Delmas ships with its 21 ports were sold on the advice of the CEO, Gilles Alix, who joined the Group in 1987 and now works alongside Cyrille Bolloré[36].

Not content with this, Vincent went on the assault on the telecommunications, construction and water distribution group Bouygues (12.5%, in 1998, after a conflict with the Bouygues family and the group’s significant growth on the stock exchange[37]). Despite the conflict, Vincent often meets the Bouygues family at family dinners – Vincent’s son Yannick is married to Martin Bouygues’ niece Chloé[38]. At the same time, Vincent invests in the Lazard group’s holding company, the Rue Impériale de Lyon[39], and tries to take over the Pathé film company[40].

19 April 2018: Vincent Bolloré (left) and his son Cyrille Bolloré (right)[41]

Lazard, like Rivaud, is controlled through a network of holding companies (Eurafrance, Gaz et Eaux, Euralux, and so on) and owns quite a few shares (like Danone, Saint-Gobain, Mediobanca, Generali)[42]. Not even two months later, Bolloré sold this stake back to Vivendi-Canal Plus. These two transactions brought into the coffers of the Bolloré archipelago capital gains to the equivalent of no less than 750 billion lire[43]. After all the financial blows Vincent has earned the nicknames ‘the little prince of cash flow’ and ‘the climber’[44].

Speaking of children, Vincent has four of them, all involved in the group: Yannick (1980), currently the President and CEO of Havas SA, the fifth largest global communications company[45] and chairman of the supervisory board of Vivendi[46], a global entertainment, media and communications company, controlled by the family and chaired by his brother Cyrille[47]. Yannick is said to be on good terms with Emmanuel Macron, and received Vivendi from his father[48] a few days before the judicial arrest of Vincent[49]. Cyrille, born in 1985, replaced his father as the group’s president and CEO in March 2019[50]: in February 2022, Vincent decided to leave the group’s annuities and chose Cyrille as his successor[51].

The only daughter, Marie (1988) has been a director of Mediobanca (representing the family with over 8%) since 28 October 2014 and holds the same position in many Group companies[52]. In 2016, she took over as head of a new division of Blue Solutions, specialising in energy storage. His eldest son, Sebastien, who has been with the Group since 2005[53], is in charge of the development of Blue Solutions in the United States[54]. Blue Solutions has been on the European lobbyist transparency register since 2017. In 2016 he declared annual expenses of EUR 150,000 for this activity, and only EUR 9999 in 2018[55].

The Bolloré group’s shareholders include important names such as the Agnelli family (5.6% of Albatros Investissement and Antoine Bernheim (who died in 2012 at the age of 87), a French investment banker, for 30 years manager and then president of Assicurazioni Generali in Trieste[56] as well as managing partner of the investment bank Lazard[57], but above all Vincent’s childhood friend (his mother’s childhood friend): Bernard Arnault (the man who created the LVMH fashion group[58]) and François Pinault (multi-billionaire, art collector, owner of the iconic Christie’s auction house[59])[60].

With the money earned from acquisitions, the group became a leader in logistics to and from Africa, where it also managed large plantations. The Dark Continent made the group’s fortune and still represents the Bolloré empire’s most important source of revenue[61]. Since the 2000s, the group has continued to develop in the automotive, communications and advertising, media and telecommunications sectors: a shareholding in the Italian insurer Generali (Vincent is Vice-President in 2010-2013), control of the Italian merchant bank Mediobanca in 2001 (of which Vincent Bolloré remained a shareholder until 2021[62]).

Added to this are port terminals (concession of the ports of Abidjan in 2008), most port terminals in the Gulf of Guinea, railway lines (particularly in Africa), distribution of petroleum products (Bolloré Énergie), wine (Domaine de la Croix, La Bastide Blanche in Côtes de Provence), and much more[63]. In 2004, Bolloré became one of Europe’s top two hundred industrial groups. In the energy sector, Bolloré is active in the logistics and distribution of oil products through its subsidiaries Calpam (Germany), CICA (Switzerland), LCA, Charbons Maulois, SFDM, etc. in France.

Influence in the media

Emmanuel Macron and Vincent Bolloré: at war for the media empire that worries the Elysée Palace[64]

Starting in the 2000s, Vincent Bolloré decided to enter the media sector: he is now present in advertising through Havas (of which he owns 36% and through which he has 4.49% of Mediaset[65] and 23.74% of Telecom Italia[66] through Vivendi) and the British Aegis (28%). At the same time, the financier also developed the first French free press pole Direct Matin and launched (in 2005) two TVs: Direct 8 and Direct Star[67]. In 2012, he became the largest shareholder of the Vivendi group when its TV channels D8 and D17 were sold to Canal+[68], not without the support of the French government.

The opportunity to beat Sky and Netflix ‘came in July 2014 from the willingness of Telefonica’s Spanish partners to exit the capital of Telecom Italia, which Berlusconi had tried to marry with Mediaset. Thanks to a transaction in Brazil, Vivendi found itself a partner in Telecom Italia. Since then, the company has progressively strengthened in Italy thanks to the longa manus of Tarak Ben Ammar, a man who has followed Silvio Berlusconi’s family business for thirty years. The same man sits on the board of Vivendi and Mediobanca. Meanwhile, on the sidelines, negotiations began with Mediaset for a share exchange that would also lead to the handover of pay-TV Premium. At a certain point, the idyll breaks down: Vivendi repudiates the agreement reached with Mediaset, triggering a series of legal disputes, and then buys 20% of Mediaset”[69].

In 2019 Vivendi buys 100% of Editis[70], one of the most important French publishing houses (Plon, La Découverte, Perrin and others)[71]. The following year, in 2020, the Group buys 29.2% of Lagardère[72], and thus becomes the owner of the radio station Europe 1 and the weeklies Le Journal du dimanche and Paris Match, three very politically influential media. In addition, Hachette, the publishing giant (Fayard, Calmann-Lévy, Armand Colin) becomes Bolloré’s property as the part of the Lagardère group[73]. The following year, in 2021, Vivendi buys the shares of Amber Capital, bringing its stake in Lagardère to 45.1% of the share capital[74].

Emmanuel Macron, worried about Bolloré’s enormous media power, asked LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault (one of the ten richest men in the world) to join Lagardère, to contain the competitor’s advance and (according to Nicolas Sarkozy) to prevent the sale of the M6 channel to Vivendi[75]. Despite this, Vincent Bolloré has a not easy relationship with the media: he is easily angered and does not tolerate when they write about him or his group. He has attacked, threatened, censored, taken authors of books, French and non-French investigative journalists to court several times, demanding millions in damages[76].

In 2014, Havas attempted to cancel more than EUR 7 million of advertising at the newspaper Le Monde, following an investigation into Vincent Bolloré’s activities in Côte d’Ivoire. Not to mention the deprogramming or censorship of several documentaries that Canal + (Vivendi group) was supposed to broadcast[77]. His actions led to a union of more than thirty journalists from the most important newspapers and NGOs, including Les Echos, Le Monde, Mediapart, who signed an open letter denouncing the intimidating methods used by Bolloré[78]. In October 2022, the giant lost its case against Mediapart for articles on Bolloré’s activities in Cameroon: the Court of Cassation sided with the journalist[79].

The agricultural and automotive branches

Socfin and land grabbing in African countries[80]

The agricultural business is another Bolloré ‘tentacle’: since 1991, it has been a minority shareholder in Socfin SA Luxembourg (Société Financière des Caoutchoucs, 39.7%)[81], one of the world’s leading agricultural industries, with almost 200,000 hectares (oil palm and rubber trees) in 10 countries in Africa and Asia, including Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Liberia[82]. In 2019, Socfin obtained the land of more than 200 villages and thousands of families: the inhabitants who agreed to cede their land in exchange for jobs and local development aid often consider the compensation insufficient or unfair, and local authorities denounce broken promises, even if included in the deed of sale or concession[83].

Deforestation has harmed indigenous peoples, particularly the Pygmies in Cameroon and the Bunong in Cambodia, who are heavily dependent on the rainforest. Complaints in Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire and Cambodia concern loss of access to drinking water due to drainage and/or polluting Socfin discharges[84]. In 2021, a report (prepared by ‘Bread for All’, ‘Alliance Sud’ and ‘German Tax Justice Network’[85]) accuses Socfin of tax evasion[86], land grabbing[87] and human rights violations[88]: the report examined the 2020 financial accounts of the company and its subsidiaries, discovering the existence of income transfers to Europe (in particular to Switzerland) amounting to more than 100 million Euros of revenues in 2020 (out of a total of 605), even though the group does not produce raw materials in Europe[89]. In December 2022, the Versailles Court of Appeal ordered the Bolloré group to clarify its relationship with Socfin[90]. The Bolloré group also owns 3300 hectares, distributed in three farms, in the United States – in Georgia and Florida (soya, cotton, olives) and several vineyards in the south of France, in the area of the ‘Côtes de Provence’ appellation, with a total area of 242 hectares, producing approximately 650,000 bottles per year[91].

Growth, in Africa as everywhere else in the world, takes place easily and efficiently. Managing director Gilles Alix says: ‘We know all the ministers. They are friends. So from time to time – let’s be clear – when they are no longer ministers, we give them the opportunity to become directors of one of our subsidiaries. This is to save face. And then we know that one day they can be ministers again[92]. The French press accuses Vincent Bolloré of close relations with many African dictators, especially in FrançAfrique[93], the French neo-colonialist system in Africa. Thus, to improve the group’s image, Bolloré decided to start a new page: he sold off a large part of the plantations, focusing on electric batteries and media[94].

Within a decade, the empire had become solid. Although his interest is essentially industrial, his critics claim that he has achieved success thanks to his connections with French politicians, such as former president Nicolas Sarkozy, to whom he has lent his Falcon 900 private jet[95] and his 60-metre yacht the ‘Paloma’ several times[96], who in return favoured his rise in the French media[97]. “The Bolloré family has a tradition of hospitality. We have received Mohammed V, Léon Blum, Georges Pompidou and also many other modest and unknown people. Welcoming Nicolas Sarkozy the day after his election was an honour for me,‘ replied Vincent Bolloré[98]. When Sarkozy left the Elysee Vincent lost his most valuable ally. He tried to relocate himself politically, but failed[99].

November 2012: Vincent Bolloré with Bertrand Delanoë and Anne Hidalgo, then his wife and deputy mayor of Paris[100]

But it is with the socialist mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë, with whom he created the electric car brand Autolib in 2011, that Bolloré has his masterpiece[101]. With the development of alternative energy sources, his success, up to 2017, is visible on every street corner in Paris, and expands to several European cities and even to the United States in Indianapolis: Autolib electric cars, with their specific batteries (LMP – Lithium-metal polymer, produced by the Group’s subsidiary in France and Canada, Blue Solutions SAS Ergué-Gabéric[102])[103]. But the company did not survive the crisis and accumulated debts and was closed in 2018, leaving graveyards of abandoned electric cars[104].

Only Blue Solutions SAS is still active: its manufactured batteries are used for the production of electric vehicles (cars, buses, trams) and the deployment of car-sharing services in Lyon[105]. Similar services also exist in Bordeaux, Indianapolis, Los Angeles (USA) and Singapore[106] (where the Group has also opened the BlueHub, a 50,000 m2 building)[107]. In urban and suburban areas, Bluebus electric buses, six to twelve metres long, are being deployed in Paris, Turin, Brussels, Luxembourg, Abidjan, Rennes[108]. In 15 years Vincent has invested EUR 1.7 billion in the development of its own alternative battery technology of the latest generation[109].

Africa, the black heart of the group

Kinshasa, 2016[110]

In 1985, Vincent Bolloré decided to land in Africa: he took control of Sofical, which owned the Bastos brand, which produced and marketed cigarettes in Africa: within a few years, he became the ‘cigarette king of Africa’[111]. Then, in 1986, he bought Société Commerciale d’Affrètement et de Combustible (SCAC), specialised in maritime transport, logistics and the distribution of petroleum products, and at the same time acquired SOCOPOA, the Société Commerciale des Ports Africains, and Rivaud, a group enriched through the slave trade[112].

After the creation of DDB, a production centre for tobacco blends in Dunkirk, in 1992 the group founded Coralma, which markets Gauloises, Gitanes and the Philip Morris, Rothmans and Reynolds brands. By the dawn of 2000, Coralma International had ten production plants. It is the largest producer of cigarettes in French-speaking Africa and the Indian Ocean, with 12.5 billion cigarettes produced locally. In 2001, the Group sold 75% of Tobaccor to the British group Imperial Tobacco[113].

Between 2005 and 2014, numerous acquisitions were made, in Africa and Europe: African port concessions, railways, but also transport and logistics networks in North America, Asia and the Middle East. At the end of 2014, Cyrille Bolloré announced the merger of Bolloré Logistics, Bolloré Africa Logistics (which includes several subsidiaries SDV, Saga, Afritramp, Socapo, Antrak, etc.[114]) and Bolloré Énergie under a single brand: Bolloré Transport & Logistics[115]. The new subsidiary of the Bolloré group generates 80% of turnover and employs 36,000 of the group’s 55,000 employees[116].

Bolloré Transport & Logistics is present in 56 countries[117], 47 of which are in Africa[118]. The new holding is divided into four business units: Bolloré Ports and its 21 port concessions (its largest project, worth over €1 billion, is located in Ghana, in Tema). Bolloré Logistics employs the most staff, with 21,000 employees, of which 10,000 are in Africa. It includes, among others, Saga and SDV, which purchase sea and air transport capacity from companies, which they retail to SMEs, large groups and governments, as well as storage facilities (1.6 million m2). Growth sectors include luxury goods, aeronautics (transporting more than 300,000 EADS spare parts) and pharmaceuticals[119].

The third branch (Bolloré Railways) operates three railway concessions in Africa, both freight and passenger, especially in areas where the roads are dangerous. Sitarail – a 1260 km railway linking Côte d’Ivoire to Burkina Faso[120], passes through Niger, Benin and Togo – although in Benin a court ruling forced the group to stop work. Bolloré Railways is engaged in a huge project to modernise Sitarail (track renewal, modernisation of the safety system and rehabilitation of stations, bridges and maintenance workshops, and renewal of rolling stock), which requires the investment of 260 billion CFA francs already in the first phase[121], and on which more than 45 billion CFA francs have already been spent[122].

The port of Guinea Conakry has belonged to the Bolloré Group since 2011[123]

Bolloré Energy, with 1,000 employees, is the leading supplier of heating oil in France. Active in the transportation and bulk storage of petroleum products, it operates the 627 km long Société Française Donges-Metz (SFDM) pipeline that transports refined oil between Donges and Saint-Baussant, near Châlons-en-Champagne[124]. The company also designs, finances, builds and manages hotels in West and Central Africa. Two of its hotels are operational in the Republic of Congo and two more are under construction[125].

In December 2021, Mediterranean Shipping Company announced an offer (through the Geneva-based Swiss-Italian MSC, controlled by the Aponte family – the world’s second largest container shipping company) to acquire Bollore Africa Logistics SAS for EUR 5.7 billion. Bollore Africa Logistics employs around 20,800 people and has 16 container terminal concessions in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Gabon. It also operates three rail concessions in the region – in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire and Benin[126]. After the pandemic, Bollore Africa Logistics’ revenues fell by 10% last year due to the decline in business and the end of the concession in Douala, Cameroon. The sale of the Group’s ports in Africa ends early, on 21 December 2022[127]. At the same time, Vincent Bolloré announced his retirement[128].

Legal problems

The outline of the results of the criminal investigation into bribes paid by the Bolloré group in Africa[129]

In April 2016, the Group’s headquarters in Puteaux, on the western outskirts of Paris, were searched by police officers from the Central Office for Combating Corruption and Financial and Fiscal Crimes (OCLCLIFF)[130]. They want to know how the Group obtained control over the port of Conakry, Guinea. The seizure starts a series of judicial investigations: in April 2018 Vincent Bolloré was detained for 36 hours in Nanterre for ‘bribery of foreign public officials’[131]. The announcement of Vincent’s remand caused the group’s shares to plummet on the Paris stock exchange: almost 8% in one morning[132].

Two of the sixteen container terminals operated by the group in Lomé, Togo, and Conakry, Guinea, ended up under investigation. The magistrates suspect that the group’s executives used Havas to facilitate the rise to power of African leaders by providing under-invoiced consultancy and communication services. And this, with a single objective: to obtain the port concessions of lucrative container terminals[133]. Also arrested were Gilles Alix, and Jean-Philippe Dorent, the head of the international division of Havas, who was responsible for supporting the Bolloré group during Alpha Condé’s election campaign[134]. In the same year, Dorent was also responsible for the campaign of the young Togolese president Faure Gnassingbé, still in power today. Gnassingbé’s son Eyadema, who had been in power for over thirty-seven years, was then running for re-election[135].

The election of Alpha Condé, in November 2010, cancelled the licence of the French group Necotrans, which managed the port of Conakry: upon taking power Condé entrusted the management of the port to his ‘friend’ Vincent Bolloré, triggering a legal battle on the part of Necotrans that ended in defeat and the acquisition of this company, for a derisory sum, by the Bolloré group[136]. Since 2011, the group has invested EUR 140 million in the port, of which EUR 80 million for infrastructure alone[137].

In October 2013, a French court ordered the Bolloré group to pay two million euros to Necotrans for the unlawful awarding of the terminal concession at the port of Conakry[138]. In May 2014, the arbitration tribunal of the Ohada Common Court of Justice and Arbitration (CCJA) ordered Guinea to pay more than EUR 38 million (plus interest) to Necotrans. Eighteen months later, the award was annulled due to the sevenfold increase in the remuneration of the three arbitrators[139]. In August 2016, the arbitration tribunal of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) also ruled that the settlement was illegal and also dismissed allegations of corruption. In the end, Necotrans only got EUR 449,000, not even enough to pay the millions in legal fees[140].

In 2009 in Togo, the Bolloré group won the 35-year concession of the port of Lomé, a few months before the re-election of Faure Gnassingbé (whose family had monopolised power for more than 55 years[141]), who was also supported by Havas in the election campaign[142], raising suspicions of corruption[143]. This time it is Jacques Dupuydauby, Bolloré’s former partner in Togo, who is being damaged[144].

June 2014: Vincent Bolloré and the Guinean president, Alpha Condé[145]

After the sale of the ports to MSC, a new wave of protest has risen. Nathaniel Olympio, leader of the Togolese People’s Party (Pt) denounces: ‘Since his arrival in 2010 in the wake of the Togolese presidential elections, Vincent Bolloré has navigated in murky waters’ and adds: ‘He ended up confessing to a magistrate of the National Public Prosecutor’s Office (Pnf) in Paris that he had bribed foreign public officials to obtain the concession for the port of Lomé. And when he proceeds to sell his Togolese assets, the transaction does not take place in transparency. No one knows the amount of the transaction. No Togolese is informed of the process surrounding this sale’[146].

After years of investigation, at the end of February 2021, Vincent Bolloré admitted guilt and ‘settled’ with the French justice system[147]. The criminal file must return to the table of an investigating judge. Instead, the Bolloré Group must pay EUR 12 million to the Togolese Treasury, paid on 8 March 2021[148]. But the case is not closed and a new hearing on the alleged corrupt practices in Togo is to be held in November 2022. Sherpa and Anticor, two NGOs and civil parties in the case[149], are sounding the alarm about the damaging expansion of negotiated justice in corruption cases, which allows the avoidance of a public trial, as the Bolloré group did in early 2019[150].

In Côte d’Ivoire, the group’s stranglehold on the container business at the port of Abidjan is starting to bother the authorities. The 2700 km ‘rail ring’ project, linking Cotonou to Abidjan via Niamey and Ouagadougou, is at a standstill due to political and legal obstacles. It is rumoured that the Ivorian authorities believe Bolloré Transport & Logistics (BTL) has committed malpractice in the sale of its African assets to MSC. Given that the state has invested EUR 1.5 billion in the port of Abidjan (Bolloré holds a concession in each of the port’s two terminals), the sale to MSC without the approval of the Ivorian authorities arouses indignation. Alassane Ouattara, the president of Côte d’Ivoire, makes no secret of his annoyance to Cyrille Bolloré and Philippe Labonne, his right-hand man and CEO of the Bolloré Group – and thus to Nicolas Sarkozy, a close friend of Alassane Ouattara[151].

But the judicial problems do not end there: in October 2020, the Paris judiciary ‘opened a preliminary investigation, still ongoing, into the conditions of the concession contract for the container terminal at the Cameroonian port of Kribi to a group consisting of the Bolloré Group, CMA-CGM and the China Harbour Enginering Company. The allocation process was allegedly rigged. In Cameroon, a judge is also investigating possible offences of falsification of evidence, false testimony and false news’ committed by Camrail, a subsidiary of the Bolloré group’[152].

Corruption is not the only problem – in the summer of 2021, ten people, including four managers of Bolloré Africa Logistics, were arrested after 145 kilos of cocaine arrived from Brazil was found in the port of Cotonou. The anti-drug operation was ordered by the President, Patrice Talon, in the hope that it would help to erase his country’s reputation for weakness against drugs[153].

A subsidiary of the group, Douala International Terminal (DIT), is accused of embezzlement from 2004 to 2019, in complicity with Paul Biya, President of Cameroon[154], by paying several tens of thousands of euros to a foundation created by Chantal Biya, the President’s wife. In addition, the newspapers owned by Vincent Bolloré take care of the image of the leaders of friendly states: thus Matin Plus, in collaboration with Le Monde, draws a flattering balance of the more than twenty-five years of government of Paul Biya, who is allegedly fighting to ‘revalue the purchasing power’ of Cameroonians and ‘strengthen the institutions for the promotion of human rights’[155]. In Cameroon, the Bolloré group takes over the entire economy: rail transport, pipelines, port facilities, plantations – the giant is indispensable for the country’s economy[156].

6 April 2016: Vincent Bolloré and the President of Cameroon, Paul Biya[157]

It all started in 1986, when the Bolloré group established itself in Cameroon by purchasing a logistics company from the Compagnie Financière de Suez, which had been present in the country since the 1940s. Subsequently, it took advantage of a privatisation programme of international financial institutions: in 1999, it obtained a railway concession (Camrail) for thirty-five years, invested in palm oil plantations, and in 2004, together with A.P. Møller-Mærsk, won the concession for the Douala container terminal, through which 95% of goods from Cameroon, Chad and the Central African Republic enter and leave[158].

In 1994, it was also awarded the management of the timber terminal at the same port, and in 2015 it was awarded a terminal at the new port of Kribi (Kribi Containers Terminal), in association with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and France’s CMA-CGM. In 2020, the state-owned Port autonome de Douala (PAD) finally took back control of the Douala Container Terminal, the 15-year contract was not extended by the port authority and after a long battle the Bolloré Group left the port[159]. But already in December 2022 Bolloré Africa Logistics and the Douala Port Authority signed the concession contract for the Douala Port’s Wood Terminal for another 15 years[160], and then sold it to the MSC Group[161].

In 2007, in order to win the concession for the port of Dakar, Bolloré made a programme dedicated to the Senegalese president on the Direct 8 television channel, and a double ‘front page’ in its newspapers Matin Plus and Direct soir: ‘Abdoulaye Wade: a great African’[162]. In September 2018, an article in the newspaper Libération revealed that the Bolloré group had been caught red-handed in Senegal: the tax authorities discovered ‘irregularities in the notes’ amounting to some EUR 2.3 million[163]. In Burkina Faso, one of Africa’s gold coffers, a subsidiary of the group tried to illegally export gold hidden inside coal shipments worth €500 million in 2018.

The facts show that Bolloré has always played dirty in Africa: as early as 2001, the group ended up in the crosshairs of the United Nations for the ‘illegal exploitation’ of natural resources, in particular columbite-tantalite (or coltan), whose trade fuels the arms trade[164]. In an April 2001 report, the UN indicated that SDV, a company wholly owned by the Bolloré group, was ‘among the main links in this network of exploitation and war’. Thousands of tonnes of colombo-tantalite were loaded from Kigali (Rwanda) or transited through the port of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)’[165]. A 2002 report listed SDV as ‘violating the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s guidelines for multinational enterprises’[166].

In Liberia, the Bolloré group owns the largest rubber plantation through its subsidiary Liberia Agricultural Company (LAC). In May 2006, the UN mission in Liberia published a report describing the catastrophic human rights conditions on the plantation: child labour for children under the age of 14, use of carcinogenic products, prohibition of trade unions, arbitrary dismissals, maintenance of order by private militias, eviction of 75 villages, a paradise[167].

It is a tragic and disconcerting picture, not least because African countries, which are slowly beginning to try to defend themselves, are struggling to free themselves from the yoke of the French giant. Not least because Bolloré, when in trouble, sells off problematic assets and uses the proceeds to relaunch ever more ambitious projects, such as that of participating in the gigantic project to connect the Cabinda coast with the Suez Canal[168]. Two hundred years after its birth, the Bolloré group is probably the most successful example of Western neo-colonialism in Africa.


[1] Official web-site:

[2] Official web-site:



[5] Although some sources state that the factory was founded by a certain René Bolloré, a former naval doctor, who learnt papermaking during his travels in the Far East, particularly Japan:









[14] Official web-site:




[18] ;




















[38] ;,+Bouygues&source=bl&ots=fc_j3_7B-T&sig=ACfU3U2CSgEZXal2ZDA0mVLW-BZaPyAFTg&hl=it&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwim9L6h-4f8AhWyiv0HHeGACMkQ6AF6BAgaEAM#v=onepage&q=bollore%2C%20Bouygues&f=false

[39] ;

[40],+Bouygues&source=bl&ots=fc_j3_7B-T&sig=ACfU3U2CSgEZXal2ZDA0mVLW-BZaPyAFTg&hl=it&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwim9L6h-4f8AhWyiv0HHeGACMkQ6AF6BAgaEAM#v=onepage&q=bollore%2C%20Bouygues&f=false ;





[45] ;


[47] ;



[50] ;


[52] ;

[53] ;







[60] ;



[63] ;

















[80] ; ;


[82] Décrypter le Groupe Socfin, Léa Pham Van, Profundo Research&Advice, 17.02.2020, see more:

[83] Florence Palpacuer e Alistair Smith, Rethinking Value Chains: Tackling the Challenges of Global Capitalism, Bristol, Policy Press, serie “Policy Press shorts”. Politica e pratica”, 2021, 204 p.

[84] Florence Palpacuer e Alistair Smith, Rethinking Value Chains: Tackling the Challenges of Global Capitalism, Bristol, Policy Press, serie “Policy Press shorts”. Politica e pratica”, 2021, 204 p.



[87] ;





[92] Thomas Deltombe, « Les guerres africaines de Vincent Bolloré », Le Monde diplomatique,‎ 1er avril 2009, see more:












[104] ;



[107] B’Centenaire. Les 200 ans du Groupe Bolloré; 1822-2022, Bolloré: p. 7 ;

[108] ;

[109] Official web-site: ; ;




[113] B’Centenaire. Les 200 ans du Groupe Bolloré; 1822-2022, Bolloré: p. 13




[117] ;









[126] ;




[130] ;

[131] ;






















[153],109676460-art ; ;


[155] Thomas Deltombe, « Les guerres africaines de Vincent Bolloré », Le Monde diplomatique,‎ 1er avril 2009; see more:







[162] Thomas Deltombe, « Les guerres africaines de Vincent Bolloré », Le Monde diplomatique,‎ 1er avril 2009; see more:


[164] Thomas Deltombe, «Les guerres africaines de Vincent Bolloré», Le Monde diplomatique,‎ 1er avril 2009, see more:

[165] Thomas Deltombe, «Les guerres africaines de Vincent Bolloré», Le Monde diplomatique,‎ 1er avril 2009, see more:

[166] Thomas Deltombe, «Les guerres africaines de Vincent Bolloré», Le Monde diplomatique,‎ 1er avril 2009, see more:



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