Traditionally, seaports are described as land-water interface facilities where ships are received, loaded and or unloaded of their cargoes. Import cargoes are stored in port transit storage for onward delivery to cargo owners, while export cargoes are received into port storage for onward loading onto ships for shipment to foreign markets.

In this role, ports are key facilitators of trade and often described as engines of economic growth. Apart from being facilitators of trade, ports are major generators of employment. The critical socio-economic and strategic importance of ports is even more pronounced in Africa where over 60% of government revenue is generated from ports by way of Customs duties and taxes.

However, one underlying reality is that a port is not storage yard for cargoes. A port is a transit facility for cargoes to pass through as fast as possible to their final import or export destination which include household consumer homes, market shop floors, factory warehouses or industrial manufacturing plants as the case may be, all of which are located outside the port facility extending into regions both far and near. The final destination of import cargoes or the origin of export cargoes passing a port is what is generally called the port’s hinterland.

The African development Report 2010 states that “It is well established that efficiency at ports is crucial to the overall efficiency of the transport logistics chain. However, a port is only as good, and its development only as viable, as the transport networks linking (connecting) the ports to centres of production and consumption (the hinterland)” .

A recent (2017) report produced by the OECD/International Transport Forum also states that that “no matter how much capacity your port can handle, it cannot be utilized to its full potential as long as “the connecting road or rail network is not equipped to handle similar cargo volumes”. One other expert source stated that “In order for trade to continue growing in the future, port-hinterland connectivity must become a part of port strategy, planning and management” .

In the light of the foregone, it is important to situate the above assertions about the interdependent linkage between a port and its hinterland in the context of Africa where ports are facing serious challenges with providing even the traditional land-sea interface infrastructure, and then explore how best Africa can learn from global experiences and design local solutions to effectively create a smooth and efficient connectivity between its ports and their hinterlands.

To undertake this exercise, the following questions need to be posed for answers to be explored:

I. How adequate is Africa’s port infrastructure in response to contemporary trends of increasing ship size and cargo volumes?
II. What is the present state of Africa’s transport infrastructure (road, rail, inland water, pipeline networks) linking the hinterland to its ports?
III. To what extent have Africa’s ports evolved from the traditional provision of basic infrastructure to developing inland facilities for improved port hinterland connectivity?
IV. Given that most of Africa’s industrial and consumption hinterlands are located within the port cities and regions, is railway network a viable investment for hinterland connectivity?
V. In the face of near 100% dependence on road transportation and congested port cities, what options are available to African ports to improve connectivity to the hinterland?