The Prospects of Ports in Africa

Africa covers about 6% of the earth’s total surface. With 38 of its 54 states either coastal or insular in nature, Africa has over a hundred port facilities. A few of these port facilities handle 6% of the worldwide water-borne cargo traffic and about 3% of the world’s container traffic. International trade is very important for many African economies, it is often the case that regional trade grows faster than the regional port capacity and there is an increasing need to change this and focus on improving the efficiency and capacity of strategic ports around Africa.

With over 90% of Africa’s imports and exports conducted by sea, it is clear that ports play a key role in the economies they exist in. African Union’s 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy is aimed improving these conditions and increasing the potential for wealth creation. Although, there is still so much to achieve in terms of improving current harbours/ports in Africa, here are some worthy of note.

Durban, South Africa

Port of Durban as popularly known is Africa’s most active general cargo port. It is situated a block away from Durban’s central business district and plays a key role in S.A’s economy. Being Africa’s largest container port, it handles most of the seagoing traffic in comparison to the other ports in South Africa. This port welcomes about 4500 vessels yearly and about 83000 containers per month, it conducts trade worth over $45billion. According to the Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa, it handled about 44.8 million tonnes of cargo in 2013-2014. Not only does this port contribute to the economy, it also creates employment for South African locals and contributes to poverty alleviation.

Mombasa, Kenya

Port Mombasa, often referred to as “the city of merchants” is also worthy of note. Dating back to the times of Portuguese exploration, it has been and remains a busy trading post for the region which could be attributed to its strategic location between South Africa and the Gulf of Aden. It is a key gateway to East and Central Africa. It provides a direct link to about 80 ports worldwide and a railway line runs therefrom to Uganda and Tanzania. With 18,000 teu and a container capacity of about 250,000teu per year, Mombasa Port now handles about double this volume.


Djibouti’s ports are crucial to its geo-strategic importance both in military and economic terms. They serve as a passage for Ethiopian trade and a platform for the transhipment of goods. This involves the outflow of container and bulk cargo from larger vessels to be redistributed to East Africa and Arabian ports. It provides a secure regional hub for transhipment and relay of goods.  China is also directly involved in the Port of Djibouti through the state-owned China Merchants Group. Their interest in Djibouti goes beyond the benefits of being involved in East African regional trade rather Djibouti’s position as the only reliable port along the main shipping lanes between Europe and the Gulf and also between Asia and the eastern coast of Africa is essential.

Lagos, Nigeria

Being Nigeria’s economic focal point, Lagos generates a significant portion of the country’s GDP. Port of Lagos, also known as Lagos Port Complex is located at the Apapa area of Lagos, South West Nigeria. With a total land area of over 120hec, the geographical location is within UTM Zone 31. Its operational area consists of berthing, cargo-handling and stacking areas and storage facilities. This leading port is one of the largest and busiest in Africa, it is administered by the Nigerian Ports Authority and is split into three main sections: Lagos port, in the main channel next to Lagos Island, Apapa Port (site of the container terminal) and Tin Can Port, both located in Badagry Creek.

Abidjan, Ivory Coast

The port of Abidjan is located on a lagoon and is connected to the sea by a 2.8 long km channel. The Abidjan Container Terminal is run jointly by the French Bolloré Africa Logistics and APM Terminals. Ivory Coast’s economic capital Abidjan boasts of the biggest port in the West African sub-region. The container trans-shipment port was opened in 1951 and its 15m deep Vridi Canal allows boats with large draughts to dock in the deep-water port and this gives Abidjan an edge as it has become even more important, receiving the bulk of the country’s industrial activity.

What prospects do you think African ports have? How can they achieve optimal efficiency?


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