Cargo containers. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Cargo containers. Picture: THINKSTOCK

Sub-Saharan Africa is missing out on a global shipping boom because of poor infrastructure, Transnet Group CEO Siyabonga Gama said at a conference on Tuesday.

Worldwide shipping container volumes are set to break the 200-million twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) threshold for the first time in 2017, Gama said at the inaugural two-day Terminal Operators Conference Africa 2017 at the Durban International Convention Centre.

But the poor and inadequate state of much of Africa’s transport network was holding many countries back from sharing this bonanza.

"The combination of years of under-investment and exploitation has meant that African ports, roads and railways were mainly designed and built to facilitate transportation of raw materials and resources to markets outside the continent," Gama said.

The 2017 African Economic Outlook report by the African Development Bank, released earlier this year, has shown that from 2007 to 2015, Africa’s light manufactured goods imports tripled to reach $260bn.

"With such a high dependence on external trade, productive and efficient ports are critical for Africa’s growth. All of us here today have a vested interest in ensuring our countries optimise freight efficiency and bring products to market faster across the continent — and for less cost."

Gama said the cost of moving goods was still very high and is passed on to the consumer, thereby impeding Africa’s ability to be competitive in pricing. "Effective transport networks are a key component of the investment climate, enabling access to markets and reducing the costs of doing business. Africa’s challenges are not only the lack of investments in infrastructure, but also the distance between the hinterland and port.,"

He said some common challenges and issues facing African countries were:

• Poor linkage among transport modes causing long delays and raising costs in the movement of international freight

• Logistical services being in their infancy, and their development being impeded by a wide array of administrative, regulatory and governance barriers

• Lack of capacity building and skills development in the freight-handling sector

• Under-investment in port, rail and pipeline infrastructure on the continent and not enough advance planning

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