Control Risks

Stuck in the bottleneck — corruption in African ports

By Jonathan Bray

The rapid rise in shipping container traffic in sub-Saharan Africa over the past two decades underlines the lucrative opportunities for businesses on the continent. However, this development also exposes companies to risks of corruption as they expand deeper into emerging markets. Serious bottlenecks caused by poor infrastructure and lack of capacity, combined with widespread corruption in the customs administration at many ports, are major issues for businesses transporting maritime cargo.

In parallel, anti-corruption enforcement has recently shown greater focus on small and operational bribes. This creates significant dilemmas for businesses transporting maritime cargo in Africa. While it is increasingly hazardous to pay operational bribes, failure to make such payments can lead to significant and costly delays in navigating standard port and customs procedures. Addressing the issue of corruption through a customs compliance strategy has become of integral importance for businesses transporting maritime cargo in Africa.

Maritime trade has grown markedly in Africa since the 1990s. West Africa has seen the greatest increase in shipping container traffic: a 364 per cent rise from 1995 to 2005 (Beyond the Bottlenecks: Ports in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ocean Shipping Consultants, June 2008). This increase has led to significant port congestion and long waiting times at African ports. A 2012 World Bank study found that, with the exception of Durban, cargo spent an average of 20 days in African ports, compared with three to four days in most other international ports…

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