What Does International Marine Traffic Say about Africa? – Alex Ndungu Njeru


A few weeks back when I had interest on a package travelling by sea from the Far East, I happened to stumble upon data that was a little troubling for my soul. I happened to come across info -graphic on current ship moorings and ships on transit along the major continents of the world. It turns out that at any one particular time there are more ships loading at ports in Japan than are docked at the shores of the entire Africa continent. At any one time there more deep sea going ships moored at ports in Taiwan (115) than are moored at the entire India ocean sea bed on the Eastern sea bed of the African continent (72)1.  Whereas ships are clustered along the coasts of countries like; Japan, China, South Korea, China, Singapore and Malaysia there are hardly any on moored along the African coasts loading or unloading cargo from different parts or to different parts of the world.

International marine traffic to and from a particular region and country data is an important purveyor of two kinds of data; one the general level of wealth creation through myriads of ways like industry and two the general level of intra and interregional trade in a particular regional. It is thus not surprising that strong correlations can be drawn between international marine traffic and other economic indicators. For example, despite having quite a big land mass and 1 billion people to boot, Africa contributes a measly 2.58% of global GDP. The same 1 billion with a smaller land mass in India contribute 5.77 % to global GDP and in China the same population contribute to a whopping 15.621 %. The data is not pretty either when you compare Africa to other regional blocks technically blocked together as developing nations, for example developing Asians countries 26.101 % of global GDP. Africa’s largest economy Nigeria, after rebased base year accounts to only 0.56 %, take out the massive oil industry and the country slides into a whole new level of economic doldrums, now compare that with Brazil’s  share of global production that stands at 2.828 %. While the GDP in Africa has grown in real terms, Africa’s share to global GDP has declined, for example 25 years ago, Kenya’s contribution to global GDP stood at 0.11% today it stands at 0.094%. From the foregoing it is safe to say that Africa does not produce enough, but that is not where the problem ends.

Africa simply does not trade enough of what little she produces. A report by the UNCTAD, Economic Development in Africa Report 2013, alludes to the fact that, ‘by most accounts, African countries have not made significant progress in boosting regional trade. Over the period from 2007 to 2011, the average share of intra-African exports in total merchandise exports in Africa was 11 per cent compared with 50 per cent in developing Asia, 21 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean and 70 per cent in Europe. Furthermore, available evidence indicates that the continent’s actual level of trade is also below potential, given its level of development and factor endowments.’ Africa’s share of global trade is a negligible 3%.

There a whole range of reasons for this but the most notable among them is that, Africa remains the most fragmented continent in the world with 54 countries with numerous border crossings. This is how Africa shoots itself in the foot; so many artificial impediments on intra-Africa trade make African trade an extremely arduous affair.

So is it all doom and gloom for Mama Africa? No, but that is we stop pretending that hiding behind the beautiful shade of ‘Afro-optimists’ is going to make all our problems go away. Those who believe in a brighter Africa should start a sustained clamour for free movement of goods and people within Africa. We should also encourage and promote environments that diversify Africa economies from age old primary economic producers towards value and addition and such other measures that will hedge Africa against erratic prices of primary products in the international markets. Until then we shall have fewer ships on our bays and we shall all be poor for it.



Data courtesy of: http://www.economywatch.com/economic-statistics/economic-indicators/GDP_Share_of_World_Total_PPP/



Alex Ndungu Njeru writes in from Kenya

Alex laments the limited presence of Africa on the waters