Loaded containers that go into the African interior exact a toll on the road - and mostly return empty

African Data Might Lie, But Its Roads Reveal The Truth About How The Continent Trades

THE United Nations’ Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) 14th conference ends Friday in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

While African economies have seen a lot of progress, the conference couldn’t escape an old reality – the continent’s trade with the rest of the world is still meagre. Africa’s share of global trade remains very small, at around 2% of world trade.

Intra-regional economic activity is also the lowest in the world, ranging from 5% to 14% depending on the data, compared to between 30 and 35% in Latin America, 50% in Asia, 70 to 75% in Europe.

While there are usually arguments about the figures, and many fret that African data is notoriously dodgy, the continent’s roads speak all the truth about how it trades.

Most roads leading from the coast where goods land, into the interior have one thing in common – they are warped. The left side of the roads, in countries that drive on the left, and the right side in those that drive on the right, are heavily buckled.

That is because trucks from the ports are heavy with goods, and drive more slowly. On the other hand, when the trucks return after off-loading their cargo, they are mostly empty and travel faster.

Some estimates say up to 90% of containers return empty from the African interior to ports.

And the side of the roads going back to the coasts, thus suffer less.


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