The conversation about Africa is shifting from one of “deficits” and “gaps” to one about opportunities, prospects, ventures and creativity. That’s not news to companies that have paid close attention to the continent and invested there. The fast growing youth population, the urbanization expected to drive over 50% of Africans to cities by 2050, and Africa’s formalizing economy are all well known. These trends and other developments have driven a half century or more of growth in Africa, and will continue to do so.
The raggedy cargo truck drives onto the ferry which immediately sinks deeply into the water, only seemingly buoyed by the grace of mother nature. The truck appears misplaced on the ferry, but locals assure me that this is the cheapest and quickest route to the final destination. “This is Africa” is often an overused phrase, but this truck is a microcosm of the continent’s transport and logistical challenges (and subsequent investment opportunities).
It is an often overlooked fact, but only about 30% of African roads are paved, and 50% remain in “poor condition,” according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. It is this reality that makes shipping cement from Shanghai to the shores of Djibouti about 60% cheaper than shipping from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa to neighboring Djibouti by road. This statistic does not indicate better things for ports. The same UN report estimates that Africa’s ports productivity is mere 30% of the international norm. This is logistics in Africa. But why?