Efficient port operation in Africa essential for regional and international trade


“The concept of efficiency hasn’t necessarily changed, it’s just what’s expected has developed over time. What you find is that in the past, it was very much a national government-driven thing.  The ports were run by the state utility, but as best practice has improved, you’ll find the private sector getting more and more involved in ports,” Standard Bank director of project finance Alan Sproule told CNBC Africa.

“Large corporations are running numerous ports around the world, bringing best practice to those ports, and ensuring that efficiency and general service levels are improved.”

Some of Africa’s biggest ports include the Lekki sea port in Nigeria, in the Ivory Coast and in Durban, South Africa.


The Walvis Bay terminal in Namibia is expected to soon join the ranks as one of the largest ports in Africa, and already has the capacity to handle more than 8 million tonnes of cargo.

“A few years back, after Namibia became independent, we had to focus on developing Namibia’s port, mainly Walvis Bay, which is the main port, as an alternative trade route for Southern Africa,” said Johny Smit, the CEO of the Walvis Bay Corridor Group.

“Namibia, being a country that has a very small population, we then said let’s see how we can also add value to the Southern African region while we develop our port. Within this we had to focus on efficiency, infrastructure, but also focusing on the land side beyond the port, going to the neighbouring countries.”

Partnerships have also been established between Namibia and its neighbouring countries to ensure that there’s efficiency along the corridor routes.  

South Africa’s Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) and the Namibian Port Authority (Namport) recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the aim of improving regional operational growth through cooperation.

South Africa has additionally rolled out a new customs system modernisation plan to curb illegal trade and improve documentation and trade efficiency.

“This is not focusing on infrastructure; it also looks at the software side in terms of focusing on human resources development, which is very critical for our sector as we are growing significantly within the next few years,” said Smit.

“For Namibia it’s always been very important to have partnerships and especially strategic partnerships. Since we see ourselves as a very small port, we need to take the hand of others that can work with us to ensure that maybe one day, we can also get into the big league.”

Investor appetite from the private sector continues to grow as Africa’s trade activities with the rest of the world increase. Demand for Africa’s commodities and resources however need to be sustained in order for investment to take place.

“Governments need to take that leap of faith and put in place mechanisms to ensure that private sector investment will take place, that the investment will take place in the ports and ensure that as the demand grows, the facilities are there and available for it,” said  Sproule.