Outside the comfort zone – Trucks in West Africa

We have talked a lot about logistics in Europe and transportation within European standards. But one of the videos we saw during the lecture about a man who was stacking bricks on his head in order to unload a boat made me think about other parts of the world. How are goods transported in other countries and what differences might be in the obstacles they have to face in order to get something from the factory to the shops. While looking for this I found an interesting documentary about West African truckers (check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYFEoWwDvxY to see the whole documentary).

In the documentary a journalist accompanies a truck from Lagos in Nigeria 288 miles to Accra in Ghana. For the whole trip it takes the group 5 to 6 days as they have to go through Benin and Togo and passing these boarders can take quite a while.

Image 1: Map of West Africa¹

They are transporting soap for a huge corporate multinational which is why they have a brand new truck from a Chinese brand and enough money to bribe the multiple guards and policemen at the boarders. This gives them a huge advantage over other truck drivers that work for smaller companies. One of the difficulties all truck drivers have to face are the roads. Even though most roads are paved there are a lot of potholes so the drivers have to stop and roll through them carefully. Moreover the trucks mostly go in convey so that they won’t get attacked. This is a possible risk as even the police could attack them (something I find really hard to imagine if you grew up in an environment like I did). This also gets us to the most important point that I already mentioned before: crossing the border. The back-up traffic from the boarder can be several miles long and informal economies arise in the boarder towns. To cross the border you have to pass numerous check-points which are completely chaotic and as no one is wearing a uniform you don’t know who is official and who isn’t. At almost every check-point they require export taxes or other kinds of bribes. All of this leads to delays and with every stop the prices for the goods the final customer has to pay go up.

Jeremy D. Foltz and Daniel W. Bromley from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have examined “the economics of petty corruption in West African trucking”.² They analyzed the data from over 900 trucks driving along three key trucking corridors (920 km from Mali to Burkina Faso, 1057 km from Burkina Faso to Ghana and 1020 km from Burkina Faso to Togo), which together were stopped over 25,000 times by seven different types of officials. The results show that in West Africa petty corruption is widespread, omnipresent and uncompromising. But what means petty corruption? The authors distinguish between small-scale, in their words petty corruption and large-scale government corruption. The authors argue that petty corruption is especially a problem for landlocked countries because they cannot bring the goods in via ports but rely on the truck delivery method.

So let’s get some more data about the West African trucking business. The West African trucking business is quite disorganized. You can find many independent operators with a single truck, a few firms may own several trucks and only a really small number of firms own a large number of trucks. Along the corridors mentioned before the costs of transport average around $3.53 to $3.93 per kilometer. This includes fixed and variable costs (petrol, driver salaries, bribes and tolls). Variable costs represent about 40% to 45% of the total costs. The cost of bribes are estimated to account about 1-5% of the total cost and 2-10% of the variable costs. Experts suggest that eliminating the bribes on these roads could lead to an increase in exports between 1 and 5%. But who are these people who require these bribes from the drivers. At the boarders you can find regular barriers and check points operated by the police, customs or gendarmerie. There might also be forestry agents, unions or health inspectors who might also have other random locations where they stop trucks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAImage 2: A truck driver being stopped at the boarder

When stopping a truck they ask the driver for the driver’s license and registration papers. This makes it impossible for the truck driver to leave as they have his paperwork and allows the officials to threaten him to delay the delivery unless he pays a bribe. Drivers can negotiate the bribes as a long discussion also doesn’t allow the officials to check the next trucks. There is no clear evidence what happens to the bribes once they are obtained by the officials. But it is quite likely that the money is moved up the chain of command.

The empirical evidence suggests that the bribe payments are influenced by the characteristics of the driver, the truck and which type of official is in control of the stoppage. Amounts may also vary from country to country.


¹ http://www.capacityplus.org/technical-brief-2/content/addressing-west-africa’s-health-workforce-crisis

² http://www.csae.ox.ac.uk/conferences/2011-edia/papers/733-foltz.pdf


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