Bridging Nations

On 21st March 2018, 44 African heads of state signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which seeks to remove tariffs on 90 percent of continental trade. For many years, experts have recognised that increasing intra-African trade is key to economic development; however, this has been hindered, not only by tariffs, but also by Africa’s infrastructure deficit. Nevertheless, there are recent encouraging signs of improvement, particularly in the south and east, which should complement AfCFTA.

Infrastructure Deficit

In March 2018, the Export-Import Bank of India claimed in a study that inadequate transport infrastructure adds 30 to 40 percent to the cost of goods traded among African countries. In May 2017, the African Development Bank (AfDB) claimed in a report that, although intra-African trade has increased, transport and communication infrastructure is less developed between countries on the continent than it is between Africa and the rest of the world. Given this situation, it is unsurprising that intra-African trade continues to struggle.

However, there are signs of change. In Southern and Eastern Africa there are many transport infrastructure projects in development, seeking to build economic (as well as literal) bridges between nations and open the interior to international trade.

Port Expansion

International trade in Southern and Eastern Africa has been through a small number of ports, many of them in need of development. In the past year, improvements have started to be made. In July 2017, the World Bank approved a $345 million loan for the expansion of the Port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and in October 2017, it was announced that the Japanese government would provide a loan worth close to $350 million for the second phase of expansion at the Port of Mombasa in Kenya. Even Africa’s largest and most developed port – the Port of Durban in South Africa – commenced an upgrade and expansion project in 2017.

There has also been a growing number of rehabilitation projects at undeveloped ports along the eastern seaboard. Nacala in northern Mozambique, the mega-port at Bagamoyo in Tanzania and Berbera in Somaliland are three examples of such projects. These projects are vital to landlocked countries, which are often over-reliant on a specific transport route for exports. For example, nearly 95 percent of Ethiopia’s foreign trade is through the Port of Djibouti; a dependency that should be alleviated by rehabilitation of the Port of Berbera.

Opening the Interior

It is recognised that developments on the coast must be matched by infrastructure projects inland. The development of the Port of Nacala is part of a wider Nacala Corridor project, which includes a railway line to link north western Mozambique and Malawi to the coast. There are plans for this line to be extended into Zambia. Similarly, the expansion of the Port of Mombasa was preceded by the development of a new railway between Mombasa and Nairobi. This railway is part of an ambitious East African Railway Network, which will link Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. The second phase is currently under construction and the line should reach Uganda’s border by 2021.

Rail and Road Regeneration

In recent years, there has been investment in railway infrastructure across Southern and Eastern Africa which not only links the interior to ports but also facilitates intra-African trade. Projects in the region include: Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway between Ethiopia and Djibouti; Tazara Railway between Zambia and Tanzania; Lobito-Luau Railway between Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); and Trans-Kalahari Railway between Namibia and Botswana. While such projects have progressed at different paces, governments in the region have at least acknowledged the importance of modernising railway infrastructure: an important step to increasing intra-African trade.

There has also been increased investment in road infrastructure. The LAPSSET Corridor project in Kenya seeks to strengthen transport links between Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. Although this project’s progress has been sluggish, new highways have greatly reduced travel time between Nairobi and the Ethiopian border, suggesting strong potential for the rest of the project. Another example of reducing travel time through improved road infrastructure is the Kazungula Bridge, which is set to be completed by March 2019. The road and rail bridge will link Zambia and Botswana and create a one-stop border post between the two countries. It is estimated that this will reduce the time crossing the border from 30 hours to 6 hours. This will greatly improve transport along the North-South Corridor from the Port of Durban to the Copperbelt in the DRC and Zambia. Zimbabwe also joined the Kazungula Bridge project in March 2018. Although there are concerns that it could divert business away from Zimbabwe, the country’s road network will be linked to the project and it may encourage the government to upgrade its current road infrastructure to remain competitive.

Foundation for the Future

While many of the transport infrastructure projects in Southern and Eastern Africa have been slow-moving and have suffered from bureaucratic inefficiency, and in some instances corruption, improvements are evidently being made. This will not only open the interior to a growing number of international ports, but also increase intra-African trade. While established sectors such as mining will be the primary beneficiaries in the short-term, it should also contribute to the development of a range of sectors in the medium to long-term. Such development will be aided by the AfCFTA, which, although still to be ratified by each country’s government and lacking the support of important economies like Nigeria, will further reduce barriers to intra-African trade. The combination of the AfCFTA and improvements to transport infrastructure in Southern and Eastern Africa is providing a strong foundation for local economies.  This will doubtless present a range of investment opportunities in the coming years.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s April 2018 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

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