Africa, and for that matter the West African sub region has seen lots of trade  activities within the past couple of years with a fairly sustained high GDP growth rates and even more impressive projections into the future. The increase in trading activities and the future projections of the possibility of the region becoming one of the most vibrant in terms of trade on the continent has led to a comprehensive modernization drive in ports across the sub region with infrastructure upgrades and the construction of new deepwater terminals.

hub ports west africa
the race for a Gateway port status

     As trade increases, Ship owners and shipping lines are continually looking for ports that can accommodate larger vessels as they seek to enjoy economies of scale forcing coastal states to gear up and position their ports as the the preferred choice (port of call) in the sub region.


    In 2012, a report by the “oxford analytica” mentioned Ghana, ivory coast and Nigeria as favorites in leading the race for a regional hub status. In that same year the “Portstrategy” a renowned maritime magazine in a publication also strongly considered and scored Nigeria a 7 out of a maximum of 10 points in the race for a hub status in the region. Angola was scored 2 out of 10 as it was seen to be struggling to meet its own port capacity needs let alone fulfill a regional function, Ghana was however not considered in that debate.

   Two years down the line , the odds seem to have shifted to consider Ghana as a strong contender with the magazine’s new report suggesting that “Ghana ups the ante” in the race for a regional hub status as a results of the country’s announcements of major port infrastructure projects.

   New port facilities and installations are expected to come on board in the very near future across prime locations in the sub region including the port of Lome in Togo.

Also read The Master Plan For The Tema Port Expansion

   The Ivory Coast recovering from a decade of political turmoil has also launched ambitious development plans focused heavily on renewing long-neglected infrastructure as well as develop new ones with reports suggesting that The Bollore group (a French industrial conglomerate) aims to double Abidjan Port Container Capacity By 2015.

  Nigeria is also taking pragmatic steps in order to be preferred as the port of choice. The country which some years ago wouldn’t have been favored due to certain bureaucratic bottlenecks, poor cargo handling, frequent port labour unrest among other things is now strongly being considered to stand a big chance of becoming the regional hub due to its  market size advantage.

   In fact some reports suggest that a greater percentage of import to the entire sub region is targeted at the Nigerian market making it a possible choice for the international shipping community.

  Ghana in its quest to not be left out of this “race”, has also announced major port infrastructural development plans such as the on-going expansion works at the Takoradi port, the development of a free port at Atuabo in addition to the completion of the Boankra inland port with a linkage to the Takoradi and the Tema port through the development of the Eastern corridor rail lines.

   More recently the country also announced the commencements of major expansion works at the Tema port and its access roads. All this develoments is aimed at strategically positioning Ghana’s ports as  Gateways into the West African sub region.


   Generally, the race for a “gateway” port status in the sub region is a fierce one and some industry experts believe that this may lead to a split of hubbing activity between all these locations but with the first two or three terminals on-line grabbing the main part of transshipment activity.

    It has become very important however to note these recent port developments on the West Coast of Africa, which are much needed to secure supply chain efficiency.

  Please leave your comments and feel free to share this article. lets continue the debate  in the forum “Who wins the race for a gateway port status in the West African sub region”  or better still you can start your own discussion too

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  • In order for prosperity to grow, driven by increased international commerce, then all of the West African countries will need to ramp-up their port, terminal and inland logistics capabilities. This appears to have great traction in the countries mentioned in this article, specifically Togo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and not least Ghana.

    For many years trade between West Africa and Asia, North America and Northern Europe (to an extent) has been achieved through mass transhipment activities in the West Med and Canary Islands. This was necessary as many of the West African ports could not handle vessels in excess of 2,500 TEU. It was therefore more economical to use 10,000 TEU ships from Asia to West Med and then 2,500 TEU “feeders” including expensive transhipment activities as opposed to running 2,500 TEU vessels directly between Africa and Asia. Even more economical however would be 6,000-8,000 TEU vessels direct from Asia to Africa, and that is now becoming a reality due to the various port expansion projects as mentioned.

    There are many factors beyond port capability however which will drive shipping line’s networks. Large and developing cargo hinterlands is key, political stability, reduced bureaucracy and corruption, plus inland logistics. As all of these develop in tandem, then West African countries will become more attractive to foreign investors, not only in terms of infrastructure but also manufacturing, turning the today largely export of raw materials into the export of finished products. This will have major benefits for the local communities, creating new jobs and wealth.

    What will also be required for the ultimate success is a large, strong and well educated work-force, and here is another key areas which these countries must invest in. With so much investment needed, there will need to be even more public-private partnerships.

    For countries and ports in the region with smaller hinterlands, then it will be less likely that Lines will look to serve these directly. The country or port with the most efficient terminals and political stability will then likely serve as a regional hub in addition to being a primary gateway. Transhipment volumes are extremely “nomadic”, so there is always an inherent risk in investing large sums of capital when the demand is not guaranteed. Here master port planning will be critical to ensure that ports and terminals are right-sized and not over-sized, to ensure that they are able to continue to sustainably offer reasonably priced products whilst remaining profitable.

    The future for West Africa looks bright, and it is nice to see Ghana in the race.

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