Shipping is the principal mode of transport that is a prime facilitator of global trade and a contributor to economic growth and employment, both at sea and ashore. Notably, all great nations and civilizations throughout history were located by the sea, from the Roman Empire to modern-day China, and they rose to greatness because they exploited the sea and the opportunities therein.

Lloyd’s List Intelligence estimated the share of maritime seaborne trade at 55 percent of all international trade in 2013, while other estimates exceeded 70 percent (UNCTAD 2016). In 2021, the global maritime trade was worth $14 trillion. Globally, 350 million jobs are linked to marine fisheries. The shipbuilding market was valued at USD 132.52 billion. According to the shipbuilding global market report 2022, the global shipbuilding market is expected to grow from $178.52 billion in 2021 to $194.34 billion in 2022. South Korea has the largest market share in the global shipbuilding market at 34%, followed by China at 33% and Japan at 17%. As per UNCTAD, in 2016, 10,303 million tons of loads were transported through waterways which increased to 11,055 million tons in 2019 and 10,631 million tons in 2020 (Covid-19 disruptions). According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the global market for marine biotechnology, is expected to reach $5.9 billion by the end of 2022.

Maritime transport handles 80 percent of trade by volume with approximately 70 percent of its value (UNCTAD 2019) Two-thirds of energy supplies are carried by sea and there is, still, vast untapped potential for renewable blue energy production from wind, waves, tidal, thermal and biomass sources. The most significant vessel demand to support trade flows resulting from AfCFTA, compared to the baseline of 2019, is within North Africa (35 percent of the total vessel fleet), from North Africa to East Africa (15 percent), and from North Africa to West Africa (11 percent). UNCTAD estimates that the AfCFTA agreement could boost intra-African trade by about 33% and cut Africa’s trade deficit by 51%. If the necessary infrastructure projects are implemented, Africa’s maritime fleet is projected to increase by 188% for bulk and 180% for container cargo.

Thirty-eight countries in the African continent are bordered by the ocean or the sea, but for 70% of them, their maritime exclusive economic zones are under-exploited. 64 percent of the continent is covered by freshwater bodies and ocean ecosystems, and 38 out of the 55 African Union member states are coastal or island states, according to the AU Commission and close to 90% of Africa’s imports and exports depend on ports and shipping. The maritime zones under African jurisdiction cover some 13 Million km2 and some 6.5 km2 of the continental shelf. Africa’s lake zones are estimated to cover approximately 240,000 sq km while its transboundary river basins cover 64% of the continent’s land area. However, Africa is the second driest continent in the world, after Australasia, and millions of Africans still suffer from water shortages due to problems of uneven distribution and a lack of infrastructural connectivity between the urban cities and marine ports to the water sources. Enhanced inland water connectivity to cities and ports will aid in transshipments of their produce.

The importance of maritime transport to Africa’s socio-economic development and regional integration is recognized by the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA PAP II), endorsed by the Summit of African Union Heads of State in February 2021. Other related continental and regional frameworks include African Union’s 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy, AU Africa Blue Economy Strategy (2019), African Union Agenda 2063; the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, The African Charter on Maritime Security and Development (Lomé Charter) 2016 and the Kenya Vision 2030 Blueprint. The Blue Economy is Africa’s blueprint for transforming the continent into a future global powerhouse and playing a major role in Africa’s structural transformation and offering tangible solutions for a post-pandemic economic recovery strategy.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) 2021 study, in terms of maritime trade flows, goods exported and imported from Africa account for just 7 percent and 5 percent of the global trade totals respectively. This is in contrast to Asia where the figures are 41 percent and 62 percent respectively. This presents a huge potential in the blue economy that African countries can take full advantage of. The Belt and Road Initiative revive trade routes along China’s ancient Silk Road, linking China to the rest of the world, including East Africa and this presents tremendous opportunities for infrastructural maritime connectivity and industrial development.

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