AFRICA has 16 landlocked countries, more than any other continent in the world. Being landlocked is considered to be a huge cost for any country, one oft-quoted statistic from a 1999 World Bank study revealed that landlocked developing countries were paying around 50% more in transport costs than coastal one, and had up to 60% lower volumes of trade – resulting in an estimated 1.5 percentage point drag on GDP every year.
Even with more regional integration and open borders in developing regions over the past decade and a half, trade costs for landlocked countries were still nearly one-third higher than in coastal ones as recently as 2010.
But transportation costs only explain one part of the real impact of being landlocked. More important is uncertainty: delays and unpredictability of services discourages investment in the transport and logistics sectors and results in higher costs. Transit systems also tend not be very integrated across borders, multiple clearances and controls introduce and worsen uncertainty in transit networks.
Still – and counterintuitively – many landlocked countries in Africa perform better in logistics management than coastal ones do. Burundi, for example, is ranked higher on the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index at position 107, than neighbouring Tanzania, yet the former depends on the latter its port traffic.
Landlocked Zambia (123rd) is ranked higher than the two countries it depends on for access to the sea, Tanzania (138th) and Mozambique (147th). Even until-recently-conflict-ridden Central African Republic (134th) performs better than its coastal neighbour, Cameroon (142nd).
It is probably because streamlining logistics and clearance is an existential issue for landlocked countries – even low-income ones invest substantially in improving customs procedures, shipping, tracking and tracing, because they know their livelihoods depend on it.
And for the coastal countries, since goods basically arrive at their doorstep, they can afford to sit around as their port and transport systems languish – they have the “luxury” of dysfunction.