Generally in Africa, water transport has not been well developed. Many rivers in their natural state do not make good modern routes for the following reasons;

  • Few rivers are navigable throughout their length. They are interrupted by waterfalls,
    rapids and floating vegetation along their courses. The Nile River for example has
    five major waterfalls and rapids. Other rivers such as Zambezi, the Orange, the
    Limpompo fall over the edge of the plateau.
  • Many rivers fluctuate in volume seasonally, that is to say, the water levels are high
    during the rainy seasons and low in the dry seasons making it difficult for navigation
    For example although the Nile River is 4,200km in length, it is subjected to marked
    seasonal fluctuation in the water level.
  • Many rivers are too short, too shallow or too swift to be useful for navigation. This
    is typical of rivers flowing from mountain regions such as Ethiopia, Kilimanjaro
    and Rwenzori.

  • Many rivers which would be capable of carrying much trade flow through remote
    areas which are also sparsely populated and inaccessible for example River Zaire.
  • Rivers tend to meander in their flood plains making the distance covered by the river much longer than the similar journey by land.
  • Some rivers flow across empty and inhospitable lands so that they are of little
    economic significance.
  • Some rivers are shallow because of heavy deposition of silt limiting the use of large
    vessels that can move on them such as the Nile which is subjected to silting
    especially near its mouth.
  • There is limited capital to develop inland water transport such as buying vessels,
    constructing ferries and modern ports to handle cargo and passengers.

  • Political differences which limits the use of the rivers. The Gambia for example is
    one of the most navigable rivers in Africa. Unfortunately its usefulness has been
    greatly reduced by the existence of political division between Gambia and Senegal,
    which has resulted in the river being divorced from its natural hinterland.
  • The volume of traffic being handled is so small that it does not warrant injection of large sums of money to develop ports and other facilities.
  • Some rivers have aquatic animals such as crocodiles and hippos and these limit
    navigation since they are a threat to man.
  • The building of manmade dams interrupts the use of rivers for navigation since it
    interferes with the flow of water. Such dams include Aswan High dam in Egypt
    along the Nile, Akasombo dam on River Volta in Ghana, Kariba dam on River
    Zambezi at the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Inga and N’zilo dams
    on River Congo.

  • Some rivers are faced with a problem of floating vegetation like the Sudd in Sudan
    on River Nile. This interferes with navigation.
  • Some rivers have inland deltas making some places impassable such as the River
  • Flooding of rivers during the wet seasons interrupts their use for navigation such as River Nile, Niger and Congo.
  • Some rivers are seasonal appearing in the wet seasons and drying up in the dry
    seasons making it difficult for navigation, especially those found in arid and semiarid areas.
  • There is shortage of skilled manpower to handle navigation vessels.
  • There are low levels of technology used which are unsafe for navigation such as the use of boats and canoes. These pose as dangers to both passengers and their goods, limiting navigation.

  • There is competition with other forms of transport that are quicker and less risky
    like air transport, road transport and railway transport.


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