African sea­ports: up­grade or drown

Africa Renewal - - Africa Watch - *Africa’s In­fra­struc­ture: A Time for Trans­for­ma­tion by World Bank, World Bank Publi­ca­tions, Washington, D.C., 2009.

If the avi­a­tion in­dus­try has been a sig­nif­i­cant player in Africa’s econ­omy, the ship­ping in­dus­try has been in­dis­pens­able to its devel­op­ment. But rel­a­tively lit­tle has changed over the past decade in Africa’s sea­port in­fra­struc­ture and ad­min­is­tra­tion. A World Bank study* grimly noted that while many ports can han­dle the in­creas­ing traf­fic from the boom­ing com­mod­ity trade, only a few are world class.

None of the five main tran­ship­ment cen­tres (Abid­jan, Côte d’Ivoire; Dar es Salaam, Tan­za­nia; Port of Dji­bouti, Dji­bouti Repub­lic; Dur­ban, South Africa; and Mom­basa, Kenya) is a ma­jor hub on the main in­ter­na­tional routes, says the study. Several ports suf­fer from low ca­pac­ity, par­tic­u­larly in ter­mi­nal stor­age and main­te­nance. Hubs at­tract big ship­ping lines and help lower trans­port costs. Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nige­ria and South Africa are among the few African coun­tries to show progress in de­vel­op­ing their ports.

In ad­di­tion to ca­pac­ity con­straints, the most com­monly cited rea­sons for bot­tle­necks at African ports are old and in­ef­fi­cient port in­fra­struc­ture and ad­min­is­tra­tive block­ages. Port dwelling time is also a grow­ing con­cern. A 2012 World Bank re­port found that, with the ex­cep­tion of Dur­ban, cargo spent an av­er­age of 20 days in African ports, com­pared with three to four days at most other in­ter­na­tional ports. Other weak­nesses in­clude poor equip­ment, in­ef­fi­cient op­er­a­tions, weak se­cu­rity stan­dards and sub­stan­tially higher port charges for con­tain­ers and gen­eral cargo.

In­te­grated rail and road links

One of the ma­jor short­com­ings of ship­ping in Africa is the lack of in­te­grated rail and road net­works with links to ser­vice sea­ports. The Econ­o­mist re­ported that it costs $4,000 to ship a car from China to Tan­za­nia on the In­dian Ocean coast, but get­ting it from there to nearby Uganda can cost an­other $5,000. “To trans­port one con­tainer from China to Ethiopia is al­most triple the cost of send­ing a con­tainer from China to Brazil,” Liu Jiang, a gen­eral man­ager with Li­fan, a Chi­nese au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­turer, told Africa in Fact, a pub­li­ca­tion of Good Gov­er­nance Africa, an ad­vo­cacy group. In gen­eral, ship­ping goods to Africa is not expensive; it’s the in­land trans­port costs that send the bill sky­rock­et­ing.

This lack of in­te­grated links means that there is still rel­a­tively lit­tle con­tainer­ized traf­fic into the hin­ter­land, es­pe­cially into the land­locked coun­tries where most im­ports are trans­ported as gen­eral cargo. Al­though still rel­a­tively low, con­tainer trans­port in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa is ex­pand­ing, says the World Bank-led re­port.

Africa’s busiest port

Most ports in Africa are run by gov­ern­ments; they own and op­er­ate the in­fra­struc­ture. How­ever, some coun­tries like Ghana and Nige­ria are opt­ing for the “land­lord” model, which is the pre­ferred op­tion, un­der which gov­ern­ments own and main­tain the port in­fra­struc­ture and the pri­vate sec­tor is left to han­dle cargo op­er­a­tions.

Africa will need huge in­vest­ments in build­ing new in­fra­struc­ture, up­grad­ing ex­ist­ing ones and main­tain­ing them. The World Bank cal­cu­lates the re­gion needs an es­ti­mated $93 bil­lion per year, or about 15% of its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct. Ac­tual in­vest­ment is cur­rently run­ning at $45 bil­lion.

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