Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Nigerian President inaugurates first IAPH Regional Conference on African soil


Nigerian President inaugurates first IAPH Regional Conference on African soil

Nigerian President inaugurates first IAPH Regional Conference on African soil
Photo credit: Moov Nigeria

The International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) has held its first regional conference on African soil under the theme “African Ports and Hinterland Connectivity”.

Hosted by Nigerian Ports Authority at the Nigerian capital Abuja, the dedicated conference brings together African ports, port operators and corridor management organisations under one roof to study the interdependent linkage between ports and their hinterlands in the context of Africa, a continent with no less than fifteen inland nations dependent on their neighbours for seaborne access to develop and grow their economies.

In his opening speech on Monday morning, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, advised African countries to improve on ports infrastructure and utilise all natural maritime endowments to facilitate trade.

“I want to implore participants at the conference to see themselves as people opportuned to stand in positions of responsibility on behalf of Africa,” the President said. He emphasised that interconnectivity would improve African countries’ economic competitiveness and that the maritime sector was central to facilitation of trade and total integration of Africa for development.

International organisations including IMO, WTO, World Bank, UNCTAD, European Commission, African Union, African Development Bank and Pan-African Association for Port Cooperation are represented at the conference together with ports from Asia, Europe and the US, to contribute their expertise and involvement in improving hinterland accessibility in Africa using best practice comparisons already on the continent as well as from other parts of the world.

In her welcome to all delegates, Nigerian Ports Authority Managing Director and IAPH Vice President of the African Region Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman commented: “There is no doubt that Africa holds a special position in the global maritime space. With 39 of the 54 countries on the continent endowed with littoral assets, the development of the continent is to a large extent tied to the optimal exploitation of its vast maritime resources.

“And since we, as brothers and sisters on the continent are also affected by relatively identical limitations and concerns, this conference gives us the opportunity to explore ways of cooperation for the development of our ports and, ultimately, the economies of our countries.”

The three-day meeting will culminate in the formulation of key resolutions to be presented by the Nigerian Institute of Transport Technology (NITT) with a final communiqué of main outcomes to be facilitated by the Secretary General of the Ports Management Association of West and Central Africa.

IAPH Managing Director Patrick Verhoeven applauded the initiative taken by the Nigerian Ports Authority:

“This is the first dedicated conference that IAPH has held in Africa since its new constitution established six world regions. As the world's second largest and second most-populous continent and with six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, Africa’s 54 countries and their ports are becoming lynch-pins of future global trade and development.

“The recent decade has seen investment in African port infrastructure on a scale never witnessed before in the continent’s history. It is therefore a logical step for IAPH to hold this event and I congratulate our Vice-President Ms Hadiza Bala Usman for taking the initiative.”


From the purchase of raw materials to the delivery of the final product, the entire operations of transport link between coastal countries to hinterlands is integrated into one network. Finished goods as well as raw materials and semi-finished products continually cross borders during the production process particularly as it relates to inland and landlocked counties.

These factors place ports in a strategic position. They are key links in maritime transport because they are the departure and arrival points of maritime transport and are the interface between the port and the hinterland interfacing different modes of transport.

The African Development Report 2010 states that “a port is only as good, and its development only as viable, as the transport networks linking (connecting) the ports to centres of production and consumption (the hinterland)” this assertion shows that port-hinterland connectivity interdependency is beginning to change the definition of port productivity and efficiency also because rail and road transport modes impact the determination of cost of goods. Experts assert that “in order for trade to continue growing in the future, port-hinterland connectivity must become a part of port strategy, planning and management”.

Considering Africa’s large land mass where 15 out of her 54 countries are landlocked (SIPRI 2015), land transport plays a very specific and important role in the economic development of nations because trading requires fast and safe transport. While the ports have major impact to the economic development of coastal countries, port-hinterland connectivity has huge impact on the economics of the hinterlands.

In this sense, Africa’s hinterlands are at economic disadvantages where port-hinterland connectivity is inefficient. If this is the case, an efficient system of transportation characterized by Speed, safety, delivery reliability and frequency is essential in the economic development of African states.

The IAPH Abuja 2018 conference will study the interdependent linkage between a port and the hinterlands in the context of Africa where ports are facing serious challenges with providing even the traditional land-sea interface infrastructure, then explore how best Africa can learn from global experiences and design local solutions to effectively create a smooth and efficient connectivity between its ports and their hinterlands.

To undertake this exercise, the following questions need to be posed for answers to be explored:

  1. How adequate is Africa’s port infrastructure in response to contemporary trends of increasing ship size and cargo volumes?

  2. What is the present state of Africa’s transport infrastructure (road, rail, inland water, pipeline networks) linking the hinterland to its ports?

  3. To what extent have Africa’s ports evolved from the traditional provision of basic infrastructure to developing inland facilities for improved port hinterland connectivity?

  4. Given that most of Africa’s industrial and consumption hinterlands are located within the port cities and regions, is railway network a viable investment for hinterland connectivity?

  5. In the face of near 100% dependence on road transportation and congested port cities, what options are available to African ports to improve connectivity to the hinterland?


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