There are some interesting contrasts between India’s railways and Africa’s. The keyword is perhaps ‘network’ – India has one, Africa doesn’t. In India you can use the trains to travel from one part of the country to another. In Africa you can use the trains, if they’re running at all, to move things to and from the coast.
Africa’s railways are an export system, designed to move raw materials from inland mines and plantations to the ports. It’s very obvious who the intended trading partners were – this system clearly wasn’t built to facilitate inter-African trade.
Consequently, only 11% of trade in Africa is with other African countries, and around 61% of exports go to industrialised countries.
By contrast, 63% of EU trading is with other members.
Transport infrastructure isn’t the only factor. There are real problems with unnecessary regional tariffs, customs are slow and corrupt, but it remains a huge hindrance. Localised trade ought to be cheaper, and better for the environment. African countries are missing out on billions of dollars worth of trade.
Which is why DfID’s announcement last week was particularly welcome – the UK government has agreed a partnership with a number of Africa regional organisations to improve transport infrastructure. The deal will “free up bottlenecks that lie on the main trading routes across eight African countries with faster border crossing, improved railways and new super highways.”
The $1 billion investment package will roll out across eight African countries over the next decade. This will facilitate both regional trade and wider exports, particularly for landlocked countries and inland areas.