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Will east Africa sail off into the sunset with its economy-boosting port projects, or are there clouds on the horizon?

Will east Africa sail off into the sunset with its economy-boosting port projects, or are there clouds on the horizon?

From Djibouti to Mozambique, several east African countries are at various stages in the development of ambitious and modern port facilities worth a combined value of over US$20 billion. The first berth of a proposed 32-berth port in the Kenya coastal town of Lamu, for example, is due to open later this month, part of the flagship Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPPSET) Corridor Program, a Chinese-backed economic and transport megaproject which is set to include transportation hubs for rail, highways and international airports.

Meanwhile, in October, Rwanda inaugurated the first phase of Kigali’s first inland port, which will reduce the time and money spent moving goods from the main regional ports of Mombasa and Dar-es-Salam to the hinterland. And the Beijing-based China Merchants Holdings International (CMHI) is currently undergoing tough negotiations with the Tanzanian government over the construction of a US$10 billion port and a special economic zone (SEZ), which, if completed according to the plans, will be the largest port in Africa.

More than 90 per cent of the world’s trade is currently carried out by sea but African trade is beleaguered by poor infrastructure and a lack of transport connectivity; according to a recent report by the auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, it costs up to 3.5 per cent more to transport a single sea container in Africa than in other regions. This drives up importation costs while making the continent’s exports less competitive on the global market. PwC estimates that a significant improvement in port performance could increase the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa by 2 per cent.