Despite road transport being the dominant mode of transport in Africa, only a third of the continent’s road networks are paved, and only half of the paved roads are in good condition, according to Sibusiso Ngobese, an economist with the Export Credit Insurance Corporation.
The bulk of the continent's road transport infrastructure that is in good condition is in the northern and southern regions, with Namibia and South Africa being among the leading countries.
As for Africa’s rail network, much of it was constructed during colonial times, with the sole aim of resource extraction rather than trade, Ngobese said, adding that limited maintenance has further undermined the continent’s rail system.
Ngobese was speaking at the African Ports and Rail Evolution conference in Durban on Tuesday.
High congestion, low trading volumes
Ngobese also said various challenges are hampering Africa’s port infrastructure.
"Issues like low levels of investment and poor operational performance lead to congestion at African ports and erases its competitiveness," said Ngobese.
While the African Free Trade Agreement held promise for the free movement of people and investment to boost intra-African trade, he said, inadequate infrastructure and poorly functioning logistics lead to high trading costs and congestion. High trading costs, in turn, lead to low trading volumes.
"The quality of infrastructure is a key pillar of international competitiveness," Ngobese said.
"Over the next 25 years, the investment needed for African infrastructure is estimated at between $174bn and $240bn per year. If Africa wants to realise integration to increase market size, a key pillar will be investment into transport infrastructure."
Port and rail partnerships
Daniel Bloch, programme director of DMG Events - responsible for organising the conference - told Fin24 that international delegates are keen to partner with African rail and port authorities. According to Bloch, there has been a growing realisation since the start of the annual conference in 2012 that a world-class port system must be supported by a world-class rail system.
From an export perspective, Bloch says interest from the private sector has grown in the annual event, with overseas companies eager to connect with role players in Africa to look for opportunities in, among others, the arts and crafts, agriculture and clothing industries.
"The challenge for greater intra-African trade is that not every African country is keen to open up to free trade," he said.
"At the same time, international companies also seem to have a more strategic approach in choosing which African countries they want to do business in."