There is presently an undue exploitation of African businesses by international shipping companies. From West zone through North to South and Eastern Africa, the continent is being browbeaten in the crucial but relegated maritime transport business. Prior to outbreak of COVID-19 that has impacted Africa negatively, movement of goods through the waters has been very difficult; most times the delays lead to retention charges set by shipping lines.
A review of Africa’s maritime transport by the UNCTAD estimates that the drop in Africa’s exports is at -35 per cent and the drop in imports at -25 per cent. The situation was worse in 2020. By late June 2020, the drop in the number of ships call in Sub-Saharan Africa stood at -9.7 per cent while the drop in container ship calls stood at -12.7 per cent, according to the review. The impact on bulk shipping was less pronounced. Port calls by dry bulk carriers declined by 7.7 per cent while calls by wet bulk carriers was less affected, falling by 1.4 per cent only.
In many African countries, including Nigeria, the time taken to pick up cargo after customs release has increased significantly. Trucks take longer times to return to their departure points due to traffic gridlock and missing infrastructure in a place like Lagos.
Today, the Nigerian Export-Import (NEXIM) has acknowledged the need to address the sustainability concerns. In agreement with the UNCTAD’s position that Africa’s maritime sector has to improve its ability to align activities with sustainability goals and principles as well as build the resilience of its infrastructure, services and operations, NEXIM is now partnering with other stakeholders, including Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Inland Water Ways Authority (NIWA), the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) and Sealink Promotional Company Limited and other partners across boarder to build a regional Sealink project.
While adding his voice to this campaign, the chairperson of the Sealink implementation committee, Mr Dabney Shall-Holma said the Sealink project was not only conceived to ensure the integration of the west and central African sub region by trade, which is trade integration but also to stretch it across the continent of Africa and ensure the improvement in the intra-African trade statistics. The aim, according to him , is to remove the huge logistics challenges and non-tariff measures along the ECOWAS trade corridor
Industry experts believe that achieving the 2050 greenhouse gases’ emissions targets set out by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is critical, and countries, especially in Africa, have an important role to play in enforcing IMO rules as a way of minimising climate change impacts on the sector.
As it stands, there are many hidden costs that are imbedded in the fact that Nigeria and indeed, most African countries do not have connectivity even though they had no access to each other, a reason for the too many non-tariff barriers in the sector.
According to managing director of NEXIM bank, Abubakar Bello, 26 cargo ships have been procured for the commencement of the west and central Africa Sealink project. $1.2 billion annual export is being targeted through the Sealink project.
According to Shall-Holma, the Sealink project will take off before the end of this year. In a recent interview, she said “We have vessels but the tall vessels cannot start sailing into our waters until the waters are mapped, surveyed and charted.”
Shall-Holma explained that until Nigeria has admiralty charts, those vessels cannot be rolled out. “All our vessels are brand new. Some were built in 2019 and some have just left the ship yards and that’s why they are being engaged elsewhere where the waters are charted…we cannot bring them now and send them into uncharted waters.”
She said uncharted waters simply means you don’t know what is in the water. Operating the vessels require that government is first able to determine what is in the water to create its own route and path by putting navigable and navigational aids.
But there are some challenges. One major challenge in the maritime industry is funding. No investor comes into the maritime industry expecting to see results instantaneously. You don’t expect to see return on your investment and so it is a long gestation investment. It’s an investment that you must tirelessly follow through, with a capacity to bring in yields.
On the concerns about the volatile security environment, Shall-Holma said government is currently building alliances and partnerships with communities on the Sealink corridor so they take ownership of the project and “we run with the project as Nigerians for Nigeria.”
There is need to do something about changing the dynamics of trade as Africans. Others are trading 40 per cent, 50 per cent with one another but trade between African countries is dismal. It’s still below 11 per cent. And the continent is not even generating must from that trade as Africans. Much advocacy is needed to get the needed buy-in of African countries.