Africa is a continent of many countries; 55, to be exact. Of these 55 countries, 16 are landlocked, and of these 16 countries, 14 are classified as “low” on the Human Development Index (HDI). Indeed, Africa’s landlocked countries are some of the poorest countries in the world. Like landlocked countries everywhere else, Africa’s landlocked countries must all depend on neighboring countries that have maritime borders for transportation of goods, which can lead to delays, higher costs, and ultimately the stagnation of economies. Most of Africa’s landlocked countries are also poorly governed and plagued with violence.
African countries that are landlocked tend to have more limited opportunities to grow and develop their economies. For instance, one way many countries have been able to grow their economies is through their exports, which bring revenue to local producers and to local governments through taxation. But landlocked countries face higher costs when exporting their products than countries with maritime borders. Goods from landlocked countries like those in Africa are more expensive to transport because they often need to travel by land through other countries to the nearest seaport. The goods also need to cross the borders of one or more different countries, which can lead to all kinds of delays associated with crossing international borders, as well as additional costs from tariffs and other duties placed on cross-border trade. The additional costs and delays associated with exports from landlocked countries are routinely passed on to the consumer, which means that they are more expensive, and therefore less attractive on the international marketplace. As a result, the ability of landlocked countries in Africa to export goods is limited, which means that there is less incentive for these countries to develop and expand their manufacturing capabilities.
Less Diverse Economies
An underdeveloped manufacturing sector is the reason many landlocked African countries have come to depend on natural resources and certain commodities for their economic fortunes. For example, the economies of Botswana and the Central African Republic are heavily dependent on gold and diamonds, while Zambia is highly dependent on copper. But being dependent on the export of certain commodities can present significant problems. One of these problems is the fact that there is no incentive to build new infrastructure other than that which would be an advantage to the mining industry. Another major problem is that commodities are very vulnerable to market fluctuations. If, for example, the price of gold drops significantly, the economies of the Botswana and the Central African Republic could be severely affected, leading to a situation in which the governments of these two countries have no revenue to build infrastructure or expand social services.
In short, landlocked countries in Africa face a situation in which there is no incentive to grow their manufacturing sector since their exports are already at a competitive disadvantage due to the increased costs and delays associated with transporting goods through landlocked countries. Hence, these countries are stuck being sources for commodities, which are subject to severe price fluctuations, leading to a lack of economic stability and consistent, stable growth, all because they have no direct maritime access.
In addition to having stagnant economies dependent on commodities, most of Africa’s landlocked countries are also very poorly governed. In fact, nearly all of Africa’s landlocked countries have been governed by corrupt dictatorships and unstable regimes. Zimbabwe, for example, was governed under the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe for nearly four decades. During his rule, Mugabe led a once prosperous country to economic ruin. He persecuted the country’s remaining white population and crushed any challenges to his leadership, living a life of luxury as his people fell further into poverty. Ethiopia, Africa’s most populous landlocked country, came under the control of a Marxist regime in the mid-1970s, which presided over civil war and famine until losing control in the early the 1990s. Afterwards, the country’s northern region of Eritrea became independent, leaving the remainder of Ethiopia landlocked.
In western Africa, where the landlocked countries of Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad are located, it is not necessarily a country’s government that has control over territory, but rather a myriad of armed groups. These groups include well-known Islamic extremist movements, such as the Islamic State (ISIL) and Al-Qaeda, the latter of which masterminded the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In some cases, these groups impose their own laws on the local populace, in contravention of legitimate governing authorities. In other cases, these armed groups will sometimes attack government military forces or even civilian institutions, such as schools or places of worship.
It is obviously difficult, if not impossible, for countries such as the landlocked states of Africa to grow and prosper if their governments are corrupt, unstable, and cannot even control the territory for which they are responsible.
Since Africa’s landlocked countries are poorly governed, it is no surprise that many of them bear witness to civil strife. In fact, nearly all of the landlocked countries in Africa have gone through civil wars and other armed insurrections, often fueled by tensions between different ethnic and religious groups. One of the reasons for all these internal conflicts is that Africa’s borders, including those of the continent’s landlocked countries, were drawn up by the former European colonial powers, without regard for the desires and allegiances of local ethnic and religious groups.
South Sudan, for example, won independence following a decades-long armed struggle that pitted the now independent country’s largely Christian and animist African population against the Sudanese central government, which is dominated by Muslim Arabs. Rwanda, one of the smallest countries in Africa, which is also landlocked, was the scene of a mass genocide in 1994, when members of the country’s majority Hutu population murdered an estimated one million people belonging to the minority Tutsis. In western Africa, the landlocked countries of Niger and Mali have both had to contend with armed rebels belonging to the ethnic Tuareg population that is prevalent in the north of both countries, in addition to the aforementioned Islamic extremist groups.
The Future Of Africa’s Landlocked Countries
While Africa’s landlocked countries face immense challenges, there are signs of progress. The brightest beacon of hope for the continent’s landlocked states may be Botswana. Unlike other landlocked countries in Africa, Botswana has managed to remain relatively free of violent civil strife. The country has also seen stable economic growth since it became independent in 1966.
One reason that Botswana has managed to remain relatively stable and prosperous may be the fact that unlike Africa’s other landlocked countries, most of Botswana’s population belongs to one ethnic group, the Tswana. Two thirds of Botswana’s population belong to the Tswana ethnic group, which means that there is a much lesser chance of ethnic conflict in the country, even though there are ethnic minorities in Botswana. It is important to note, however, that a homogenous population is no guarantee of stability or prosperity. The landlocked states of Rwanda and Burundi also have ethnic majorities, but are beset by conflict between the majority Hutu population and the minority Tutsis.
In addition, although Botswana has managed to maintain stability and economic growth, the country still faces some of the same problems that other landlocked countries in Africa must contend with. For example, Botswana’s economic growth is largely dependent on its main commodities, gold and diamonds. The country’s manufacturing sector is limited. Moreover, like landlocked countries in western Africa, Botswana has very little land suitable for cultivation.
Fortunately, Botswana is not the only landlocked country in Africa where there are signs of progress. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, Ethiopia had one of the continent’s fastest-growing economies. In a period spanning 2016 and 2017, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa’s most populous landlocked country soared 27.6%. In 2018, Ethiopia’s gross domestic product (GDP) was projected to grow 8.5%. In fact, Ethiopia has seen GDP growth of 10% per year over a 10-year period. The Ethiopian government has invested heavily in expanding the country’s industrial and manufacturing sectors, which most other landlocked African countries struggle to do. Some have suggested that in time, Ethiopia could become a major manufacturing hub due to the country’s low wages, thus following the same path that China has taken to achieve economic growth. Rapid economic growth over the past few years has also taken place in the landlocked countries of Uganda and Rwanda.
But progress in the development of economies in landlocked countries remains tenuous. Although Ethiopia has recorded significant growth, for example, that growth is threatened by growing popular discontent and unrest in the country, which has descended into violence. Recently, an armed rebellion in the Ethiopian province of Tigray has led to many deaths and many displaced from their homes. In addition, the rapidly-growing countries of Ethiopia, Uganda, and Rwanda all have to deal with government corruption, which generally plagues most developing countries. Hence, although Africa’s landlocked countries may have a brighter future, it will depend on how well these countries deal with their continuing challenges.