The recent increase in interest and investment in Africa’s emerging markets has exposed a significant lack of capacity and infrastructure related to multiple ports in Africa. 

China, the Middle East, an several European countries are investing heavily in many industries as well as infrastructure projects designed to move goods and people more efficiently than has been the case in the past. Looking forward, it is expected for tonnage going through the ports of Africa will increase from a manageable level of under 300 million tones a decade ago to almost 2 billion tines by the middle of this century. 

The current issues confronting most ports in Africa include, but are not limited to:

  • Security is inadequate
  • Technology to support smooth customs clearance processes is lacking.
  • Maintenance of equipment used for loading and unloading 
  • Size and depth of the harbors is limiting access by many of the newer and larger container ships. 
  • Connecting infrastructure. To move cargo in and out of ports efficiently, roads and railways will need to be expanded at a pace compatible with the expansion and improvements of the ports. 
  • Financing and coordinated planning of all of the many large projects will be a challenge in and of itself. Unstable political situations, and corruption in many of these African countries often make access to capital both hard to get and expensive. 

While problems and barriers are the reality in Africa, bright spots do exist. Today, much of the cargo moving in and out of Africa go through ports in Egypt and South Africa which have relatively well developed ports. Expansion of the Suez canal in 2015 has increased the number of ships that can transit and reduced the time it takes, increasing the amount of cargo moving in and out of Egypt’s ports. 

As mentioned earlier, Chinese investment in the continent has been and will continue to be huge. As an example, the Doraleh Port in Djibouti is a huge project financed by Chinese banks that include, in addition to the port expansion, a major highway system to Ethiopia as well as a massive underground data cable system that will serve a wide area in the region. 

In conclusion, one can expect the next two decades to be an exciting a challenging time for shipping companies servicing the African continent. Problems with congestion, security and access to different points of access onto the continent will continue to frustrate and impact operations in the region. Conversely, those organizations that engage this emerging economy and establish the business and political relationships that are always important in logistics, will likely be rewarded in the long run.