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africa ports

Why Does Cargo Spend Weeks in African Ports?

Gael Raballand's picture

Port NamibiaContainers spend, on average, several weeks in ports in Africa. In fact, over 50% of total land transport time from port to hinterland cities in landlocked countries is spent in ports.

Our recent study demonstrates that, excluding Durban and Mombasa, average cargo dwell time in most ports in SSA is close to 20 days whereas it is close to 4 days in most large ports in East Asia or in Europe. In this setting, the main response has been to push for: (a) concession of terminal operators to the private sector, (b) investments in infrastructure (such as quays and container yards) and (c) investments in super-structures such as cranes and handling equipment.

What has been the result on cargo dwell time? Not much. On average, it is extremely difficult to reduce cargo dwell time. In Douala (Cameroon), for example, planners set an objective of 7 days at the end of the 1990s, but the dwell time remains over 18 days (despite real improvements for some shippers). 

How to boost Africa’s exports

Caroline Freund's picture

Consider the following description of a trucker’s journey in Cameroon:  “The plan was to carry 1,600 crates of Guinness and other drinks from the factory in Douala where they were brewed to Bertoua.  According to a rather optimistic schedule, it should have taken 20 hours, including an overnight rest. It took four days. When the truck arrived, it was carrying only two-thirds of its original load.”

And this is how a Tanzanian exporter explains why few firms stay in the exporting business: “They discover that it is a miserable experience. Having gone to the effort of getting an export order they then spend weeks pounding through bureaucracy, endlessly waiting in dirty government corridors trying to find a morose civil servant prepared to do his job.”

How do these costs affect Africa’s trade?