Kenya leads push for transport protectionist policy in Africa

Shipping and Maritime Affairs Principal Secretary Geoffrey Kaituko. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Plans to revive and protect national and regional shipping lines in Africa has gained momentum, with experts and policymakers meeting in Mombasa saying it will lower the cost of transport in the continent.

In 2021, African ports loaded 762.4 million tons of goods onto mostly foreign ships and discharged 553.2 million for Sh115.5 trillion ($762.4 million).

The experts drawn from 25 countries said protecting African liners through cabotage laws will boost the economy of Africa as the  Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) takes shape.

They explained that cabotage, a protectionist policy framework to guarantee business between ports within the same territory to local ships, was crucial for continental self-sufficiency.

Mining, Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs Cabinet Secretary Salim Mvurya said effective cabotage policies will also ensure maritime resources benefit Kenya and Africa.

"Our oceans and waterways connect us, facilitate trade and present boundless opportunities for sustainable development," said Mvurya.

The conference, which has attracted about 500 delegates, seeks to unlock new opportunities for trade, investment and job creation.

Shipping and Maritime Affairs Principal Secretary Geoffrey Kaituko said the implementation of the cabotage policy would lead to regional integration and reduction of over-reliance on international shipping.

“It will also enhance intra-African trade, improvement of safety and security and environmental protection through control and mitigation of greenhouse gases,” said Kaituko.

Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) Chairman Hamisi Mwaguya, noted that Africa has embarked on a journey to protect the vast coastlines, nurturing indigenous shipping industries and enhancing regional economic integration.

"The maritime cabotage, transporting goods and passengers between ports within the same territory, is crucial for our continental self-sufficiency. It holds untapped potential to boost intra-African trade, create employment, and combat illicit activities on our waterways," he said.

Intergovernmental Standing Committee on Shipping Secretary General Daniel Kiange argued that a well-planned and flexible cabotage regime can ensure marine environment protection, maritime security and protection of employment opportunities for local seafarers and other maritime professionals.

"Unfortunately, maritime cabotage in Africa generally faces many challenges such as national restrictions, inadequate infrastructure, lack of harmonized policies and regulations, insufficient financing, low competitiveness and limited human capacity," he explained.

Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa (Pmaesa) Secretary General Colonel Andre Ciseau said the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the limits to globalisation and led to countries developing different initiatives to enhance maritime connectivity in their regions, including the establishment of a region maritime cabotage and short-sea shipping.

"This has equally highlighted on various platforms as a driver of promoting intra-Africa trade," he said.

Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) Mombasa branch chairman, Abud Jamal, is optimistic that improved liner shipping connectivity in the region will contribute to reducing trade costs and promote growth in trade volumes.

"The maritime transport connectivity determines the extent to which countries, markets, suppliers, buyers, importers, exporters, producers and consumers are serviced by numerous, regular and reliable maritime transport services. Within the maritime transport sector, the liner shipping connectivity relating to containerized trade is of particular relevance," he noted.

Blue Economy and Fisheries Principal Secretary Betsy Njagi said that the government has focused on fish processing and training of youth at the Bandari Maritime Academy to ensure skilled jobs in the sector.