River transport and reshaping Africa



Ashraf Ghazy, Damietta, Egypt


As Governments across Africa recognise the value of inland waterways, African rivers can be used to great effect by integrating transport network across the continent.

River privilege

While road and rail networks require constant maintenance and upgrading, navigable rivers and lakes call for far less investment and become of greater use when  integrated with road and rail links.

Various forms of cargo, particularly containerised commodities, can be easily moved using multimodal transport. This often requires Inland Container Depots (ICDs) to be developed at the nexus of road, rail and water transport networks, which means investment.

A good example is Ather Ennaby river port, Cairo which is currently being developed to help boost Egypt’s container throughput to 350 million by 2020. The Ballore ICD at Kampala, which serves the rest of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Southern Sudan and Eastern DR Congo, is another good example. Governments usually focus on other high profile, although often less effective projects. This results, however, in a lack of investment resources to initiate river waterway rehabilitation and begin the catalyst for barge traffic.

A consortium comprising of donor agencies, governments of African estates and the private sector could secure the necessary finance and avoid this obstacle which decision-makers usually encounter.


Much effort is still needed to revive inland waterway transport in the community of Eastern and Southern African Estates (COMESA). Relevant resolutions have already been taken to bring COMESA countries together. COMESA trade has expanded from US$3.1 billion in 2000 to nearly US$9.0 billion in 2007, due to the removal of tariffs among member states under the Free Trade Area (FTA) Agreement. COMESA countries have a combined GDP of about US$290 billion and a population of 400
million people. To supply the requirements of such a huge and rapidly growing population is definitely a daunting task.

COMESA Secretary General Sindiso Ngwenya has recently begun touring African states to propagate the concept of ‘Buy African, Build Africa’ (BABA) strategy that aims to encourage trade amongst nations of the continent and to address common goals. River Transport is supposed to play a key role on that.

The Greater River Nile project

An ambitious feasibility study conducted by Capt. Abdelkader Saeed, Chairman of the newly founded The Great River Nile Co., proposes the use of The River Nile in inland cargo movement. According to the memo he submitted to the Ministry of Transport, door-to-door services will be included in the project, which should  incorporate inland road transport links only between seaports and river docks.

Should the project materialise, benefits such as reduced costs, reduced time, less burdens on road transport and less environmental pollution are expected. Locally available equipment will be in operation until The River Port Fleet is constructed and selected cadres receive necessary training abroad. From a microeconomic perspective, the Great River Nile Project should provide new work opportunities and prop up the development schemes for villages across the Nile as it forges its
passage through them.

From a macroeconomic perspective, the idea is expected to invigorate multimodal transport in the area as a whole. This translates into direct benefits to maritime and air transport links. The door-to-door services that the multimodal system is to offer, should help expedite cargo release from ports.

This will lead to better stevedoring rates, higher cargo turnover and more revenues together with easing vehicle congestion on port gates. Several Arab Transport tycoons have long searched for such a project viewed by many as a timely buoyant to maritime transport in the region.

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