Sustainable transport and logistics chains in East Africa – the role of inland water transport in the development of East African economies.
While East African countries continue to develop, markets become wider and demand for goods and services across the countries increase in number. Especially with the recent official entry into East African Community (EAC) by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), there is need for these countries to pay more attention to water transportation than before. This is because of the direct access on both the Indian Ocean (on Kenya and Tanzania side) and the Atlantic Ocean (on the DR Congo side). It implies that trade will increase as a result of the free movement of both humans and goods across the borders. It is on such grounds therefore, that Love Uganda Logistics is giving an insight on inland water transportation. This form of transportation is not restricted to transportation of goods but also transportation of human beings from one location to another. We of course expect people to migrate from one country to another since movement across these countries has been made easier. In this article, we answer questions that involve the past, present and future trends of inland water transportation. Additionally, we look at cargo and freight forwarding particularly on the waters. What differences exist between shipping goods on Indian Ocean and shipping goods on Lake Victoria? We also look at water transportation as an industry rather than just a service and the ways of shaping it to become an outstanding industry among East African countries and Africa as a whole.
Why Should East African Countries put more effort on Inland water transportation?
Love Uganda Logistics believes that there are multiple of reasons why East African countries should direct their efforts towards developing inland water transportation. This is because;
- Inland waterway transport is a competitive alternative to road and rail transport.
- Inland water transportation offers an environment-friendly alternative in terms of both energy consumption and noise emissions. Its energy consumption per km/ton of transported goods is approximately 17 % of that of road transport and 50 % of rail transport.
- It is another way of utilizing the abundant inland water bodies in Africa. East Africa has one of the major water bodies some of which are world’s top. Talk of River Nile, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, River Congo, Lake Turkana, Lake Kivu, to point out but a few. All these are reliable business and trade points. Their potential to support economic growth in their respective countries as well as East Africa as a whole can be achieved by improving transport.
- Inland waterway transport ensures a high degree of safety, in particular when it comes to the transportation of dangerous goods.
- It also contributes to decongesting overloaded road networks in densely populated regions.
What is the current state of Inland water transportation in East Africa?
East Africa has an extensive network of inland waterways in the form of rivers, canals, lakes and channels. Freight transportation by water is highly underutilized in the region as compared to developed countries. East Africa’s hinterland connectivity is mainly based on road and rail with domestic waterways— both coastal shipping and inland waterways—playing a limited role. Waterways are found to be cost effective as well as an environmentally friendly means of transporting freight. In East Africa, Inland Water Transport (IWT) has the potential to supplement the over-burdened railways and congested roadways. In addition to cargo movement, Inland Water Transport sector also provide a convenient function in related activities such as carriage of vehicles on [Roll-on-Roll-off] (Ro-Ro) mode of cross ferry and tourism.
Despite the immense benefits of the transport system to the economy, Inland Water Transport in East Africa has a long history of neglect by both the governments and private sectors. Little effort had been made to develop inland water transport facilities in the past years. This stems largely from policy inconsistency, limited private sector involvement and conflict by agencies involved in water transportation among East African countries. Much as some governments and other stakeholders have tried to make the sector boom, its development remains on tenterhooks for quite a number of years.
According to Nile Basin Water Resource Atlas (http://atlas.nilebasin.org/treatise/inland-waterway-transport/), nine of the eleven Nile riparian countries have navigable water bodies, and a total of 72 inland water ports between them, with Egypt and Uganda having the highest number. The main areas important for inland water transport in East Africa are Lake Victoria which provides a vital transportation link for Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania with the main ports being Jinja and Port Bell in Uganda, Kisumu in Kenya, and Mwanza, Musoma and Bukoba in Tanzania; Sections of the White Nile in South Sudan, and the Main Nile in The Sudan and Egypt.
Generally, with all the number of water bodies available in the East African region, inland water transport is one of the least developed sectors in East Africa. The three main lake ports are:
- Kisumu for Kenya, located in the North Eastern corner of the Winam Gulf, fronting Kenya’s third largest city,
- (ii) Mwanza South for Tanzania, located within a natural shallow bay on the Eastern shore of Mwanza Gulf, and
- (iii) Port Bell for Uganda, located at the end of Murchison Bay, South-East of Kampala.
These are directly included in the regional multimodal trade routes, namely the Northern and Central Corridors.
Services that need to be considered while East African Countries focus on improving Inland water transport
The services below group comprise of establishments which are primarily engaged in providing inland water transportation of passengers and/or cargo on lakes, rivers, or intracoastal waterways.
- Barge transportation, canal (freight)
- Canal barge transportation (freight)
- Intracoastal transportation of freight
- Lake freight transportation
- River freight transportation
- Ship chartering with crew
- Shipping freight
- Towing service
- Canal passenger transportation
- Car lighters (i.e. ferries)
- Intracoastal transportation of passengers
- Lake Passenger transportation
- Water shuttle services
- Water taxi services
What are the major hindrances of Inland water transportation in East Africa?
The list of the hindrances of water transport development in East Africa and Africa as a whole is endless, however, we have listed a few;
- Policy inconsistency
- Duplication of regulatory functions
- Infrastructure deficit
- Insecurity and political instabilities in some parts of the region
- Floating vegetation such as water hyacinth
- Inadequate human capacity
- Low investment
- Poor technology
- Competition from other means of transports such as road transport and air transport
- Presence of rapids and falls on some water bodies
- Climatic changes
- Inconsistency in the water levels on the water bodies
- Substandard barges and boats,
- Inadequate equipment at jetties
- High cost of operations
- Currency devaluation
- Under-exploitation of the waterways transport sector.
What are the benefits of having a well-developed inland water transport sector in East Africa?
The benefits of having a vibrant inland water transport system are countless, but we would like to point out a few. These include;
- Revenue generation and availability of finance
- Trade and commerce
- Promotion of tourism
- Employment and job opportunities
- Enhancement of industrial growth
What is the future of Inland water transportation in East Africa?
While East African countries continue to drive towards political and wholesome economic integration, they ought to put inland water transport into consideration. All advancements in technology, infrastructure, security, name it should have a certain percentage directed towards improving inland water transport. Actually with the development of inland water transport there is need for a collective effort. That is Stakeholders from across the world, representatives of Regional Economic Communities (RECs), national governments, development partners, civil society organizations, industry practitioners, academia and the private sector, should come together to discuss how to promote inland waterway transport (IWT) and regional short-sea shipping routes (SSS). Such inclusive round table discussions create a sense of belonging ness in the hearts of the whole population. This makes the journey of improving and developing inland water transport an easy venture.
The future of inland water transport entirely depends on reviving projects that had faded and supporting those that are already in existence. There is also need to establish water transport that fits in the modern trade and commerce; enhancing the integrated resource management; including water; enhancing waste management; and building knowledge and sharing competences. The ever increasing trans-border trade amongst East African countries is likely to bring about congestion on road and transport thus the need for an improved water transport system.
While all the East African governments are embarking on industrialization and mass production of agricultural products. The question remains, how will these products reach both local and international markets if transport systems are not improved? Countries that have a share on Lake Victoria (the biggest lake in East Africa) have places that are only accessed using either air or water transport. Air transport remains the most expensive and less used (domestically) means of transport among East African countries. This means that if goods and services are to reach to the island areas such as kalangala (in Uganda), there is need for a well-developed inland water transport system.
On the global scale; inland water freight transport market is expected to grow from $15.91 billion in 2021 to $16.71 billion in 2022 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.0%. The market is expected to grow to $19.34 billion in 2026 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.7%. This is according to the Inland Water Freight Transport Global Market Report 2022 (https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2022/04/04/2415381/0/en/Inland-Water-Freight-Transport-Global-Market-Report-2022.html). Where does this leave East African countries should be one of the major questions in the minds of every stakeholders.
Additionally, the recent Covid-19 pandemic, Ukrainian war and hiked fuel prices, economies have been hit strongly and East African countries are not exceptional. This implies that people are likely to resort to the cheapest method of getting things done. One of the methods is using the cheapest means of transport. In such a scenario, do not be shocked when in five to ten years from now, you see inland water transport being among the most common used means of transport for both goods and human beings. This is a call for governments to think beyond the horizon and act accordingly in regards to improving and developing inland water transport.
Love Uganda Logistics believes in integrating the past with the present to create a reliable future. We believe that if East African countries include Inland Water Transport (IWT) in their development agenda. There will be a great step towards economic integration alongside development. This does not of course mean neglecting other means of transport such as road and railway but rather an added advantage and a way of creating a diversified economy.