Debunking the puzzle behind unwarranted delays of containers at the Douala seaport in Cameroon, By Chofor Che, 30 August 2012

30 Aug

Clearing goods from sea ports in Africa and most especially from the seaport located in the economic capital of Cameroon, Douala, can take many weeks. Such delays are definitely disastrous to the economy of Cameroon as well as to the economy of other central African states like Chad and the Central Africa Republic, who also benefit from the seaport in Douala.

According to a study conducted by the Douala based Atanga Law Office, over 50% of total land transport time from seaports to hinterland cities in landlocked countries is wasted at the sea ports. This is so because trying to clear goods from the sea ports has become a painful process mired with a lot of challenges.

Averagely, it is very difficult to reduce cargo dwell time at the Douala seaport in Cameroon. Planners at the Douala seaport set an objective of 7 days at the end of the 1990s, for goods to be cleared from the port in question, but it still takes 18 days to clear goods from this seaport, notwithstanding real improvements for some shippers.

What is the cause of such a quagmire? It is argued that the private sector, which includes customs brokers, owners of container depots, shippers, as well as terminal operators, all have an interest in reducing dwell time. But such a move is slowed down by big government represented by the Ministry of Finance including the centralised customs administration. Customs procedures which could have been handled in Douala still need to get approval from the Ministry of Finance and General Customs Administration sitting in the political capital, Yaoundé. One would have thought that issues concerning the seaport of Douala should have been decentralised. But this is not the case.

In as much as most of the blame goes to large government, the private sector is also partly responsible for such long delays. The research from Atanga Law office also confirms that low logistics skills as well as cash restrictions explain why most importers have no reason to curb cargo dwell time; because in most cases, it would increase their input costs. Additionally, conflict of interests may strengthen rent-seeking behaviours among controlling agencies, intermediaries and shippers. Similarly, some terminal operators gain a lot financially, by providing storage facilities. Customs brokers do not bother to curb long delays at the Douala seaport since the importer bears the brunt of the inefficiency and which is eventually shared by the consumer.

This research also adds that companies may utilise long delays at seaports as a strategy to prevent competition. Such a move acts as a strong impediment for international traders. Delays at the Douala seaport may also be considered a means to sustain rent generation for some shippers.

Such a precarious situation implies that the government of Cameroon needs to re-think its intervention strategies. One of such ways is to further decentralise the Customs administration, which will go a long way in curbing administrative bottlenecks, as well as corruption.

The Customs administration may also consider investing in additional storage facilities so as to curb congestion at the seaport. If facilities at the seaports are increased and existing ones maintained, then curbing delays can be checked so that international traders are not discouraged in trading with Cameroon and parts of central African states like Chad and the Central Africa Republic.

The private sector also has to show a sign of maturity by encouraging international traders continue to trade with Cameroon, as well as other parts of central Africa, via the port of Douala. Reducing conflict of interests may be one of the ways of creating a favourable environment for fewer delays at the Douala seaport.

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Posted by on August 30, 2012 in Uncategorized


6 responses to “Debunking the puzzle behind unwarranted delays of containers at the Douala seaport in Cameroon, By Chofor Che, 30 August 2012

  1. choforche

    August 31, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    Anthony Rainey wrote • Could some of the other issues be:

    a. – Lack of protection against attacks by pirates

    b. – Lack of internal controls by the Seaport Authority and no oversight of practices

    c. – Poor State of Infrastructure – The World Bank reported in September 2011 that

    “The poor state of Cameroon’s infrastructure is a key
    bottleneck to the nation’s economic growth. From 2001
    to 2005, improvements in information and
    communications technology (ICT) boosted Cameroon’s
    growth performance by 1.26 percentage points per capita,
    while deficient power infrastructure held growth back
    by 0.28 points per capita. If Cameroon could improve
    its infrastructure to the level of Africa’s middle-income
    countries, it could raise its per capita economic growth
    rate by about 3.3 percentage points.

    Cameroon has made significant progress in many
    aspects of infrastructure, implementing institutional
    reforms across a broad range of sectors with a view to
    attracting private-sector participation and finance, which
    has generally led to performance improvements. But the
    country still faces a number of important infrastructure
    challenges, including poor road quality, expensive and
    unreliable electricity, and a stagnating and uncompetitive
    ICT sector.

    Cameroon currently spends around $930 million
    per year on infrastructure, with $586 million lost to
    inefficiencies. Removing those inefficiencies would leave
    an infrastructure funding gap of $350 million per year.
    Given Cameroon’s relatively strong economy and natural
    resource base, as well as its success in attracting private
    financing, the country should be able to close that gap
    and meet its infrastructure goals within 13 years.”

    How are the issues reported above being addressed?

    • choforche

      August 31, 2012 at 7:12 pm

      Chofor Che Christian-A • Great addition Anthony Rainey. Definitely, lack of internal controls by the Seaport Authority and no oversight of practices as well as poor infrastructure are major impediments. Lack of protection mechanisms against pirates is also another serious issue.

  2. Greg

    September 3, 2012 at 12:01 am

    I am curious – Since Cameroon is such an important and major port to the country – as you say it also services many land locked countries – why is there not a project underway to improve the situation. As you say the economics are there. There is technology and systems that can address a number of issues including secure pre clearing of goods and of course screening technology.

    I do agree that clearing of goods should not be done in such a complex manner for this makes it prone to corruption – of course this is a common problem with many things in Africa – Many of the problems in Africa would be resolved if corruption at the line staff level could be removed – just look at India and the disaster there. Even India’s top business people prefer not to invest in India because of the corruption.

    On the other hand 18days is not bad compared to other African ports.

    I do not understand the following part of your post:
    “The private sector also has to show a sign of maturity by encouraging international traders continue to trade with Cameroon, as well as other parts of central Africa, via the port of Douala. Reducing conflict of interests may be one of the ways of creating a favourable environment for fewer delays at the Douala seaport.”

    I am sure the private sector will not be encouraged to ship via Douala if there is too much corruption and delays and it certainly is not their role to do so. Course most business people are used to corruption and try to find ways to make life easier – unfortunately this means increased costs for the consumer.

    All the best.

  3. Vewessee Jude

    November 29, 2012 at 8:18 am

    One major problem with the Cameroon system of management is the implementation of policies. They have good laws but when it comes down to the field things don’t run the way they are supposed to. The Ministry of Finance recently entered into partnership with some banks to facilitate the clearing process so that clients can pay in the required amount to clear their goods at the bank thereby reducing the chances of corruption and eliminating middle men. If this is made to work, it may take less than 14 days to clear your goods thereby encouraging business at the port. fast turnover , heavy yields and a favorable climate to do business.

  4. destybrown

    August 14, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Why is the Cameroon system so corrupt?I want to shout out for someone to hear me but it seems the cameroon government has sworn to frustrate it youths.I came with my container tomy country for business and it took me more than one month to clear a simple twenty fifth container at the Douala port .They keep asking me for monies either to do this or do that.I feel like abandoning my hard earned money and go away.Now how can a value for a twenty fifth container with two old cars bought overseas for not more than a thousand dollars go up to nine million cfa this is outragious.It is really shocking to see a country that is bent on never going forward .people come to positions to make their monies and dont care what happens there after .I beg of you Cameroonians in positions mind your ways or people will be dieing for no just cause.

    • choforche

      August 17, 2013 at 8:44 am

      I firmly believe advocacy will one day change the way things are going especially in our ports. Many may not know this, but the President is disgruntled with the way things have unfolded in the ports for the past years. Many a time he has been lied to that things are going on well. Sanctions are in the pipeline even against his closest aids.


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