Sustainable transport and logistics chains in Africa: the role of inland water transport and short-sea shipping

Past event online

Sustainable transport and logistics chains in Africa: the role of inland water transport and short-sea shipping


Marine transport, both via inland waterways and over shorter maritime distance, has the potential to greatly improve continental integration in Africa and transform the economies of African countries, especially landlocked and island states – but it needs adequate support and an enabling governance framework. Those were the main takeaways from the Africa-Europe Foundation online booth at the Europe-Africa Business Forum, which aimed to mainstream the role of marine transport across the African continent, not only for improving connectivity within the continent and facilitating trade under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), but also for achieving the green agenda, enhancing food security and creating employment for the youth.

Stakeholders from across Africa, representing Regional Economic Communities (RECs), national governments, development partners, civil society organisations,  industry practitioners, academia and the private sector, came together to discuss how to promote inland waterway transport (IWT) and regional short-sea shipping routes (SSS), at an online event held on 18 February 2022, which was chaired by Dr Francis Mangeni, Senior Fellow with the Nelson Mandela School of Public Governance and Advisor on the AfCFTA, and moderated by Yaya Yedan, Senior Fellow for Transport and Connectivity at the Africa-Europe Foundation.

Panellists discussed the CICOS PIDA PAP2 project in the Congo Basin, highlighting the challenges of funding, governance and low private sector participation that still hamper the implementation of the project, while emphasising the transformative impact it can have not only under the four key components of PIDA (trade and commerce; enhancing the integrated resource management; including water; enhancing waste management; and building knowledge and sharing competences), but also the role it can play in socioeconomic inclusion – for example, by providing children with access to neighbouring school facilities across the river in the Congo Basin.

A successful IWT project in Kenya was highlighted as an example of improving transport supply for business travellers and the economic growth it could spur, especially for remote communities that are hard to access, emphasising the benefits of collaboration with Europe in the transport sector towards a sustained wider impact. Kenya is a strategic country to target for investment in marine transport, potentially contributing $4.8bn to the country’s GDP over the next decade. Lake Victoria in particular has been identified as a priority for Kenya’s blue economy, with the impact extending beyond national borders, reaching some 400mn people in East Africa. In view of their merits for greening the economy and introducing shipbuilding industry, inland waterway and short-sea shipping have been targeted under the region’s climate change policies. Lake Volta in West Africa, as well as the Congo-Oubangui-Shanga and their affluents, are cases in hand for replication of success factors and building on lessons learnt.

The role of climate change towards achieving the SDG-related targets was raised by other panellists, regarding both IWT and SSS. Without costly new infrastructure or new energy types, there is a potential to green logistics chains across the continent, by shifting part of the freight and passenger traffics to these two alternative modes of transport, with the potential to develop port towns and cities. Likewise, the need for a subregional short-sea shipping strategy was repeatedly mentioned, particularly with regards to island states. Without integration into the shipping strategies of the regions (and indeed the whole continent), island states remain less competitive and risk being increasingly marginalised, even as the world becomes more globalised. Members of the Indian Ocean Commission are working on three main areas to solve this challenge: data services for shipping trade, designing a maritime security framework and easing the implementation of the AfCFTA. However, the need for urgent complementary actions was still underlined, notably the need for indigenous shipping companies offering reliable and affordable services, linking island states with mainland countries.

Panellists were also unanimous in their calls for greater investment in marine transport, but for the development partners, the issue of mobilising the resources remained. Technical studies, surveys, identification of projects and understanding of implementation are still limited, and until capacity is built here, it remains easier to fund overland transport projects.

The moderator concluded by summing up the main asks of all the panel into one theme: governance. Public governance, private governance and information governance – if this can be improved, there will be a better chance of success for the future of marine transport in Africa.

Main conclusions and takeaways for the way forward:

  • A consensus was reached amongst all panellists on the importance and timeliness of promoting efficient, safe and reliable inland waterway transport (IWT) and short-sea shipping (SSS) services in Africa, as well as the need for the continent to dedicate significant support to these sectors, which require comparatively less investment than road transport and have the potential to unlock diversified social, economic and environment opportunities.
  • Public decision-makers at national, regional and continental level need to effectively address both the governance framework and the hard infrastructure dimension of inland waterway transport, which are critical pillars for the sustainable enhancement of this industry.
  • Public decision-makers, funding institutions and relevant development partners are urged to work in tandem to create a conducive environment that attracts private sector players into SSS and IWT.
  • Relevant financial institutions and development partners (such as AfDB) are called on to accelerate the mobilisation of funds and provide the requisite resources to ensure the effective implementation of the CICOS PIDA PA 2 Project.
  • Financial institutions and development partners (AfDB, EU and its initiated “Global Gateway” plan, InfraCo) need to offer more flexible and better-packaged financial facilities, in line with the magnitude of the projects and the needs of investors and promoters of SSS and IWT, and are urged to scale up their operations across the continent.
  • AfDB acknowledged the need to increase its support to CICOS project and IWT in Africa in general. To that effect, it has recently established a special financial facility to assist in funding feasibility and bankability studies for infrastructure project.
  • Representatives of Regional Economic Communities and national governments affirmed the critical importance of designating regional, high-level “champions” for SSS and IWT, to help raise the profile of these two modes, drive their public awareness campaign and contribute to mainstreaming them at high-level policy dialogue (inter- and intra-African); to that end, they agree to play an active role in the process that leads to the nomination of these champions with relevant regional and continental political leaders.
  • RECs and national governments are urged to develop, adopt and implement regional legal and institutional framework for cabotage (SSS) and IWT, where such framework does not exist.
  • There is an urgent need for an Africa-wide research study to assess the potential of IWT, including the mapping of demand, which AfDB has expressed its readiness to undertake if solicited in that respect.
  • Heads of African governments and continental organisations must be mindful of their leading role and responsibility to find solutions that address the poor maritime connectivity of African Islands states, as an essential prerequisite for their integration with the mainland countries.
  • RECs and continental organisations, including AUC and AfCFTA, are called upon to lead the consultative process for the development of regional and continental strategies to address the lack of adequate maritime services to and from African Islands countries, as this has revealed to be the biggest challenges impeding their connectivity.


Ahead of the 6th AU-EU, the Africa-Europe Foundation Strategy Group on Transport and Connectivity is hosting a debate on the role marine transport can play in transforming logistics chains across Africa.

This side-event, taking place as part of the EU-Africa Business Forum (EABF2022) during the Africa-Europe week, will offer a dialogue platform that aims at facilitating open, well-informed discussion around complex issues for the Africa-Europe partnership, by favouring dynamic interaction with experts and interested stakeholders ready to dive into the key issues at the centre of the cross-continental partnership.



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Debate — Sustainable transport and logistics chains in Africa: the role of inland water transport and short-sea shipping
Expand Debate — Sustainable transport and logistics chains in Africa: the role of inland water transport and short-sea shipping


Judith Enaw

Secretary General of The International Congo Ubangui Sanga Commission (CICOS)

Nancy W. Karigithu

Principal Secretary at the State Department for Shipping & Maritime, Government of Kenya

Joseph Kouassi Nguessan

Regional Sector Manager for Infrastructure at the African Development Bank (AfDB)

Raj Mohabeer

Officer in Charge , Indian Ocean Commission

Friederich Neser

Chief Executive Officer of Globology ltd

Marie Thérèse Chantal Ngakono

Commissioner for Territorial Development and Infrastructure at Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)

Yaya Yedan

Senior Fellow for Transport and Connectivity at the Africa-Europe Foundation

End of debate/summit/dinner etc.


Photo of Nancy W. Karigithu
Nancy W. Karigithu

Principal Secretary at the State Department for Shipping & Maritime, Government of Kenya

Show more information on Nancy W. Karigithu

Nancy W. Karigithu, CBS is the Principal Secretary, State Department for Maritime and Shipping Affairs at the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development with responsibility for promotion of the Maritime and Shipping Industry in Kenya. Prior to this, she worked at the Kenya Maritime Authority as Director General for nine years. She has previously served as the Chair of the Technical Cooperation Committee, one of the five working committees of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for two terms.  Currently she sits on the Boards of Governors of the World Maritime University (WMU) based in Malmo, Sweden and the IMO International Maritime Law Institute based in Malta.

Photo of Yaya Yedan
Yaya Yedan

Senior Fellow for Transport and Connectivity at the Africa-Europe Foundation

Show more information on Yaya Yedan

Yaya Yedan, a senior transport specialist, is the Lead of the Transport and Connectivity Strategy Group of the Africa-Europe Foundation and is responsible for driving, leading and supporting the strategic development, coordination and delivery of the Strategy Group. He played a central role in the policy engagement on Africa’s transport policy and trade facilitation, at the regional and continental levels, as the Lead for the ‘Integration, Connectivity and Cohesion’ Pillar at the Africa Transport Policy Program (SSATP). He successfully convened and played a key role in expert and high-level, multi-stakeholder dialogue sessions to push for a more coherent African transport strategy.

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