A Ferry on Lake Malawi. Image credit seabreezes.co.im

ZIMSEC O Level Geography Notes: Transport: Railways, ports and inland waterways

  • Africa’s transport network is the least development in the world for various reason.
  • The continent has some of the world’s poorest nations with very low Gross Domestic Products (GDPs), Gross National Products (GNPs) and per capital incomes.
  • The continent also has some of the harshest environments in the form of deserts, drought, cyclones and hot, wet climates inhibiting the establishment of route networks.
  • Physically, the continents has plateaus, mountain ranges rift valleys, lakes, swaps and marshes, plains prone to flooding and waterfalls and rapids all working against the construction of good transport network.
  • Politically the continent is very unstable with many civil and inter-country wars and military coups.
  • Historically the continent has been partitioned and compartmentalized, leading to the development of a disjointed and irrational transport network such as differently railway gauges between countries.
  • The need to maintain links with former colonial power for economic and other gains has also contributed to the chaos.
  • Poverty, however, is mainly responsible for the problems.

Railways, Ports and Inland waterways

  • The development of ports led to the growth of  railways.
  • The ports of Africa, which incidentally are mainly cities were established during the colonial period by colonizing powers.
  • These ports were supposed to ship raw materials to the colonizing powers in Europe.
  • These ports were used as administrative and service centres, as well as transshipment points for manufactured goods from Europe back to African markets.
  • In line with this, railway lines were therefore built linking these ports with the interior hinterlands of mines, indigenous forests and commercial farmland.
  • The ports of Africa spatially indicate four clear patterns.
  • One group, which is the largest, includes those ports on the west coast from Cape Town in South Africa to Nouakchott in Mauritania, the Atlantic seaboard ports.
  • The second is on the east coast, the third on the Mediterranean coast and the fourth of inland ports either along major rivers or inland seas or lakes.
  • West coast ports have direct links with the Americans and Europe to which they send iron ore, oil, timber, cocoa, coffee, groundnuts and palm oil while Indian ocean ports are linked with the Middle East (oil), S.E Asia (manufactured goods), the Far East and Australia.
  • Barbary Coast ports conduct trade with Europe using the Mediterranean Sea shipping lane, the strait of Gibraltar and the Suez canal.

To access more topics go to the O Level Geography Notes page