Inland Water Transport System And Regional Connectivity In Liberia: -A Potential Driver for Economic Growth; Drawing From The Experiences of Tanzania, Uganda & Egypt


By Amara Quardu Mohammed Kamara


The article develops a multi-dimensional measurement of transport infrastructure and examines the linkages between transport infrastructures such as inland water transport networks as a driver for sustained economic growth in Liberia.

Governments and donors in Sub-Saharan Africa have devoted considerable resources to the construction and rehabilitation of roads. An emphasis on transport infrastructure is evident in the lending pattern of the World Bank, which commits a larger share of resources to transport infrastructure than education, health, and social services combined (World Bank 2007).

Total transport commitments in the fiscal year 2013 amounted to US$5.9 billion and rural and inter-urban roads remained the largest sub-sector with 60 percent of lending in FY13 US$3.2 billion (World Bank 2014). Africa has the lowest density of roads in the world, with 204 kilometers of road per 1,000 square km, nearly one-fifth the world average, and less than 30% of the next worst region, South Asia.

Starting from such a low base, the potential for growth due to improvements in transportation infrastructure is presumed to be especially large in Africa with a focus on inland water transport infrastructures. Given the significant investment in the transport infrastructures across Africa by governments and development institutions, governments in Sub-Sahara Africa have got to include an intriguing innovation to the debates about transport networks’ contributions to economic growth. It is worth noting that transport networks, though expensive, facilitate the creation of and the participation in, markets and are deemed to be central to development.

Supports to such sectors seek to have ripple effects on economic growth and development; thus creating accessibility to farms and marketplaces, enhancing local productivity, regional trade and commerce, and sustained economic growth. The rationale behind these investments is self-evident and a path to sustainable development.  However, one significant sector that must be considerably harnessed is the inland water transport networks which facilitate regional connectivity, supply chain management, and logistics and fast-moving regional trades in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The article reveals the author’s unforgettable experience during his academic tours in East Africa with a focus on Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Egypt respectively. In these regions, governments have utilized the potential impacts of transportation industries with a focus on improving trades and connectivity. These evidence-based experiences will give an informed understanding to stakeholders of the transport sector and the Government of Liberia in particular, in terms of creating innovative ideas to smoothly connect counties and regions across the country as part of its quest to connect the Coastal regions.

In Liberia, limited donor finance for road sector reconstruction, rehabilitating heavily deteriorated road networks, establishing sustainable funding for road maintenance, and creating institutional capacity for road networks remains a daunting challenge. Modeling the development frameworks of other progressive countries in Africa remains and is essential to the country’s economic governance. The article therefore looks deeply into the transport industries of Tanzania, Uganda, and Egypt with a focus on inland water transport networks: the Nile River, Lake Victoria, and the Indian Ocean, respectively.

The former President of Liberia, Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is hailed locally for her massive support to road construction which according to pundits secured a perfect win for her second term. Mrs. Sirleaf’s efforts on road construction saw Monrovia, the epicenter of the nation’s economy, connected with some major counties and cities in Liberia: Nimba, Bong, Grand Bassa counties among several.

In August 2018, her successor, current Liberian Leader, President George M. Weah announced his government’s plan to improve road networks in Liberia; targeting asphalt pavement for areas: Dry Rice Market-Johnsonville (11.5Km), Fair Ground Road Buchanan City (1.50), Duazon Sand Beach Road (1.0Km), Sophie Road (1.2Km), VOA ELWA Community Access Road (1.5Km), and Manatema Road (1.7Km), and other feeder road projects in the country..

Also, the pavement of Roberts International Airport (RIA) Highway to transform it from two to four lanes has been highlighted by the Government of Liberia. These developments bear witness to President Weah’s unexhausted determination to build upon and continue from where his predecessor left off as far as transforming the country’s infrastructural outlook, is concerned.

Matter of fact, this desire, and commitment to infrastructure development are indubitably shrouded in the much-hallowed Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development. (President Weah’s Mandate on Pavement of Feeder Roads Nearing Fruition – As Public Works Seeks Bids, 2020).

Meanwhile, the government has unveiled its plan for the most talked-about “Coastal Road” project which seeks to connect counties along the coast of Liberia targeting the South Eastern parts of the country, though the initial fundings; Ebomaf and Elton drafted for the commencement of this grand project flopped due to failed due diligence and the would-be financiers’ incapability to fulfill their side of the agreement.

To date, the Government of Liberia and the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) have signed a loan agreement of US $50m for the construction of a coastal Highway road which will begin at Buchanan, Grand Bassa County to Grand Kru County.

These development approaches most especially targeting road connectivity in cities and counties are fundamental drivers to the economic development of the country which seeks to promote local trade and commerce and accessibly link the nation’s capital to other surrounding counties. The fundamental factors which determine the ability of the economy to achieve economic growth are economic resources available to the society and efficiency of their use such as the transport infrastructure, which is considered to be a key prerequisite of social and economic development of any country (Janský, 2011, p. 94).

This is particularly true in the Republic of Liberia where road transport is the most widely used mode of travel. Since the importance of the road network transcends national boundaries, the expansion and upgrade of the road networks are vital to economic performance, which increases foreign investments and competitiveness enhancement.

While we acknowledge huge investment in road transport infrastructure which is heavily cost- effective, another potential alternative is Inland water transport. Inland water transport is regarded as cheap, efficient, adequate, safe, and environmentally friendly. Inland water transport services provide effective support to agricultural and industrial production, inter- and intra-country trade, regional integration, tourism, and social and administrative services that are key to national and regional growth and development. It is safe to argue that IWT has several advantages over other modes of transport, including being cheaper and safer. It also consumes less energy and emits fewer greenhouse gases.

Inland Water Transport-The Tanzania Experience

Tanzania is rich with natural endowments; Mount Kilimanjaro and the amazing islands like the Zanzibar are sites for tourism. Tourists from around the world visit the country to experience trips on the Indian Ocean which are facilitated by ferry transport services. Recently the World Bank categorized Tanzania as a lower-middle- income country after it made significant economic reforms, including making consistent plans and taking hard decisions aimed at improving its economic development.

Tanzania’s national development strategy emphasizes that extensive and efficient infrastructure is critical to ensure the effective functioning of the country’s economy. Tanzania is the international gateway for several of its landlocked neighbors including Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, DR Congo, Zambia and Malawi, and they are all dependent to some extent on the country’s transport network for their access to global markets.

The National Bureau of Statistics reported that the transportation and storage sector’s contribution to GDP at current prices has risen steadily over the previous decade, from TSh1.39trn ($632.2m) in 2006 to TSh2.32trn ($1.1bn) in 2009 and TSh2.99trn ($1.4bn) in 2013, before reaching TSh3.44trn ($1.6bn) and TSh3.44trn ($1.6bn) and TSh3.86trn ($1.8bn) in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Besides, the private sector has also been playing an important role in the transportation development under PPP frameworks. Since 1990, about 20 PPP projects have reached financial close in Tanzania with a total investment value of $1.73bn, while 13 additional projects valued at $1.68bn are currently under development, according to a May 2017 report by the PPP Knowledge Lab. This endeavor has supported the country’s inland water transport network where ferries owned and operated under the private- public partnership arrangement transport Tanzanian travelers, international tourists, and entrepreneurs to Zanzibar Island and other regions.

Azam Marine and Coastal Fast Ferries are the first passenges ferry company in Tanzania. It connects Tanzanian travelers, international tourist,s and entrepreneurs to Zanzibar Island and other regions. It transports over 600 passengers daily between Dar es Salaam and the Zanzibar.

Inland Water Transport- Network In Egypt

Egypt has the most developed inland water transport system on the Nile River. This comprises the Aswan–Cairo Waterway (960 km), the Cairo–Alexandria waterway (220 km,) and the Cairo–Damietta Waterway (225 km). The Egyptian network is linked to the Sudan and other upstream countries through the Aswan–Wadi Halfa Waterway (350 km). All the waterways have been equipped with hydraulic structures and navigation facilities to allow for 24-hour, all-year traffic. Inland water transport has several advantages over other modes of transport, including being cheaper and safer. It also consumes less energy and emits fewer greenhouse gases.

Transporting bulk goods between Khartoum and Alexandria is far cheaper via the Nile waterways than through maritime transport. To promote public passenger transport and encourage a modal shift of cargo transport from road to railways and inland waterways, the Egyptian Ministry of Transport has included measures in its Transport Sector Development Plan (2007–2017) to upgrade navigation and port facilities on the Nile waterways and improve the overall efficiency and attractiveness of inland water transport. The Ministry has set a target of transporting 20% of cargo by inland water.  Like Tanzania, Egypt has encouraged investment of inland water transport services by incorporating the concept of private-public partnership.

Inland Water Transport Network In Uganda- Lake Victoria

About 241,038 square kilometers of Uganda’s total land area is covered by swamps, lakes and rivers, most of which are navigable. Almost all of Uganda’s water resources are Trans boundaries and shared with her neighbors such as Kenya and Tanzania (Lake Victoria) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Lake Albert and Edward). Water transport is therefore used to transport communities living in the Islands, across the lakes, tourists and goods.

The inland water transport system in Uganda is divided as Lake Victoria transport on the remaining five lakes and six rivers. Lake Albert provides truck ferries to the Democratic Republic of Congo. International lake transport is currently grouped with rail transport and the international ferry services (wagon ferry services) to Kisumu and Mwanza. The Government operates ferry services as a continuation of the national roads across points on rivers and lakes where it would be uneconomical to build bridges. These ferry services are important for linking parts of the country to the capital, regional centers and communities.

As stated, the article looks deep into the significance of implementing inland water transport network drawing from the best practice examples of Tanzania, Egypt, and Uganda. The article therefore proposes that investment in Liberian Transport Industry should be driven by the active participation of the private sector with favorable government policies. Investments in the transport sector are often regarded as essential to sustained economic growth. Within this framework, private sector participation is integral to achieving the government’s objectives and sustains the country’s macroeconomic stability like in the case of agriculture.

In the case of Liberia, the most achievable coastal road project is the inland water transport system; which connects counties and regions along the coast of Liberia to the nation’s capital. Investment in the inland water transport network is fundamental to radical economic reforms in Liberia. This reform would significantly impact the country’s maritime industry, where graduates from the Liberia Maritime Academy will have hands-on experience.


Water transport is the cheapest means of transportation for bulk goods, and enables countries to reduce transport costs for bulk imports and exports. Historically, societies have always located near water, due partly to the fact that water transport is more efficient than overland travel. The complex network of connections between coastal ports, inland ports, and rail, air, and truck routes forms a foundation of material economic wealth worldwide. If properly developed, water transport could play a vital role in unlocking the economic potential, and increasing competitiveness and integration of coastal counties in Liberia.

Liberia has about three (3) ports in addition to the Freeport of Monrovia. These ports can potentially facilitate inland water transport networks as part of the government’s plan to connect the coastal region. Radical economic governance and profound policy decisions have statistical influences on the nation we seek to build.  An innovative idea could potentially respond to the needs of an accessible, cheap, efficient, and effective transport network. It is imperative that Liberia remodels its development framework and adopt the best practice approaches of Tanzania, Egypt and Uganda to invest in inland water transport system that would connect and transport goods and services through ferries. This will also encourage tourism along the coastal regions.

Like in Tanzania, Fast Ferries Ltd (Kilimanjaro) is a Tanzanian transport company largely involved in water transport. Kilimanjaro VII certified by International Maritime Organization No. 1413033, has about 600 passengers capacity with 34 knot speedy and as well huge safety measures. This has significantly helped to reduce the burden of connecting regions in Tanzania. Most of the development projects in East Africa are backed and influenced by Public- Private Partnership (PPP). The Government of Liberia should encourage this model as a means of facilitating development projects in Liberia. Create the enabling environment for Liberian entrepreneurs to invest in such a significant sector – with a specific focus on inland water transport system.

The fundamental factors which determine the ability of the economy to achieve economic growth are economic resources availaley to the society and efficiency of their use such as the road infrastructure, which is considered to be a key prerequisite of social and economic development of any country (Janský, 2011, p. 94).

Policy Recommendations

Liberia is blessed with so many natural endowments and sources of water (rivers and oceans); investment in inland water transport can create sustained economic prosperity and further enhance the productivity of the maritime industry, promote industrialization, increase trade and commerce in communities and regions along the coast and increase Foreign Direct Investment.

Thus, the author proposes the sub-indicated for consideration by government policymakers:

❖That Inland water transport in Liberia could be an eye-opener to ecotourism which will facilitate the adventures of tourists on the Atlantic Ocean, connecting the coastal counties and promote local trade and commerce.

❖ That supporting Private Public Partnership would lead to sustained investment in the transport industry with a focus on inland water transport network.

❖That the Government of Liberia should facilitate a feasibility study to ascertain the socioeconomic potentials of investing in inland water transport network.

❖ Liberia Maritime Authority, Ministry of Transport, and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning etc. should begin seeking potential partners within the maritime industry to consider investment in inland water transport system in Liberia.

❖ That the country should allow dual citizenship where foreign investors will be able to own properties and direct their investments in Liberia by expanding marine networks and tourism industry, drawing from the experiences of the mentioned countries.

❖ Consider investment in the Transport Industry: Investments in the transport sector are often regarded by governments as essential to economic growth. Within this framework, private sector participation is integral to achieve government objectives and sustain the country’s macroeconomic stability.

❖ Establish the Liberia Development Board: The Liberia Development Board will be the conduit to open Liberia for business. Like Rwanda. It will be regarded as a one-stop-shop for all investors. This will bring together all government agencies responsible for the entire investor experience under one roof. This includes key agencies responsible for business registration, investment promotion, environmental clearances, and National Investment Commission, privatization, and tourism and transport industry. LDB should be modeled on international best practice examples of Singapore, Costa Rica and Rwanda. The Liberia Development Board will have the responsibility to transform Liberia into a dynamic global hub for business, investment, and innovation and fast tracking economic development in Liberia by enabling private sector growth.

References: 2020. Inland Waterway Transport – Nile Basin Water Resources Atlas. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 July 2020].

Construction Review Online. 2020. Liberia To Construct US $50M Coastal Highway. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 July 2020]. 2020. 2.5 Uganda Waterways Assessment – Logistics Capacity Assessment – Digital Logistics Capacity Assessments. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 July 2020].

TanzaniaInvest. 2020. Tanzania Transport – Tanzaniainvest. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 July 2020].


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