The Tema Port Expansion Project in Ghana epitomizes a strategic milestone in Africa’s maritime and economic landscape. This ambitious project, scheduled for completion by September 2025, is not just an infrastructural upgrade but a pivotal catalyst for economic transformation. The significance of this expansion is underscored by its scale and potential impact: it is set to enhance the port’s capacity from handling 800,000 Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) to an impressive 3.7 million TEUs per year. This substantial increase positions Ghana not only as a key player in regional maritime logistics but also as a competitive force in global trade.
Overview of Tema Port Expansion project
Phase two of the Tema Port Expansion includes critical upgrades, such as the installation of 15 state-of-the-art gantry cranes and the expansion of the terminal area to 127 hectares, up from 100 hectares. This development is a part of Ghana’s broader vision to augment its maritime infrastructure and improve its logistical capabilities. The project’s scale is indicative of Ghana’s commitment to enhancing its maritime trade facilities, positioning the Tema Port as one of the largest in West Africa.
Economic impact and trade volumes
The economic implications of the port expansion are significant. By increasing the port’s capacity to around 3.7 million TEUs, Ghana positions itself to handle an exponentially larger volume of maritime trade. This capacity expansion is crucial, given that, according to the World Bank, Sub-Saharan Africa’s port throughput in 2019 was approximately 265.5 million tons. The ability to accommodate mega-ships carrying up to 22,000 TEUs, a substantial jump from the previous limit of 5,000 TEUs, is set to attract more global trade routes to Ghana, thus boosting its economic activities.
Employment and skills development
The expansion project has been a significant source of employment, with around 5,000 workers involved in the first phase alone. This job creation is particularly notable in a country where, as per the Ghana Statistical Service, the unemployment rate was around 4.5% in 2020. Beyond mere employment, the project facilitates considerable skill development. With over 4,000 staff, 90% of whom are Ghanaians, being trained to international construction standards, the project is contributing to the upskilling of the local workforce. This skill enhancement is crucial in a country where skilled labor forms a vital part of the development agenda.
Infrastructure and technological advancements
The Tema Port Expansion incorporates cutting-edge technology and infrastructure enhancements pivotal for modernizing port operations. These improvements are not just confined to the port but extend to the development of road networks in the surrounding areas. For instance, the construction of the Tema Motorway Roundabout, a project costing approximately $57 million as reported by the Ghanaian Ministry of Roads and Highways, significantly eases traffic flow around the port. This development is crucial in a country where road transportation accounts for about 96% of freight and passenger traffic, as per Ghana’s National Transport Policy. Furthermore, the introduction of automated systems and advanced cargo handling equipment in the port aims to streamline operations and increase efficiency. This modernization is aligned with Ghana’s broader economic strategies, emphasizing infrastructure development as a cornerstone for growth. The country’s coordinated program of economic and social development policies underscores the role of infrastructural advancement in driving economic progress, with the port expansion being a key example of this focus
Political interference and stakeholder conflicts
The Tema Port Expansion project has been marred by political interference and stakeholder conflicts, casting a shadow over its execution. The concession process, criticized by the Maritime and Dockworkers’ Union for bypassing competitive bidding, raises serious concerns about governance and transparency. This contention suggests possible procedural lapses, which could undermine public trust and confidence in the project’s management. Moreover, the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) and Meridian Port Services (MPS) have been embroiled in disputes over critical aspects of the project. These disputes include disagreements on contract specifics, such as the duration of MPS’s management and tariff determination rights. These issues are not just bureaucratic but have tangible implications. For instance, negative reportage surrounding these disputes has had a discernible impact on the port’s operations. According to the GPHA’s 2020 annual report, vessel calls at the port experienced a downturn, partly attributed to the uncertainties generated by these conflicts. This decline highlights how political and stakeholder issues can directly affect the operational efficiency and attractiveness of key infrastructural projects like the Tema Port.
Impact on cargo throughput and economic activities
The Tema Port’s expansion has had a tangible impact on Ghana’s cargo throughput and economic activities, even amidst global challenges. In 2020, a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruptions, the port demonstrated remarkable resilience. According to the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, the port exceeded its cargo traffic target by 5.9% compared to 2019. This increase is significant, considering that the global shipping industry faced unprecedented challenges due to the pandemic. To put this into perspective, the World Bank reported a decline in global trade volumes by approximately 5.3% in 2020. In this context, the performance of the Tema Port stands out as an exception. The increased cargo throughput at Tema Port is a reflection of Ghana’s growing importance as a trade hub in West Africa. The port handled a diverse range of commodities, crucial for both domestic consumption and export. However, the pandemic’s impact was evident in the port’s export volumes, aligning with global trends during this period. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) noted a significant disruption in supply chains and a decrease in export volumes globally in 2020. In Ghana’s case, export volumes through Tema Port showed a reduction compared to the targeted figures and the previous year’s performance, indicating the pandemic’s adverse effects on the export sector. The Tema Port’s role in maintaining a steady flow of imports was crucial for Ghana’s economy during this period, ensuring the availability of essential goods despite global supply chain disruptions. This performance underscores the port’s strategic importance in not only facilitating trade but also in bolstering the country’s economic resilience in challenging times.
Looking ahead, the expanded Tema Port is strategically positioned to align with the increasing demands of global trade. It’s expected to play a pivotal role in Ghana’s ambition to become an export-driven economy, particularly under the frameworks of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The AfCFTA, covering a market of over 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $3.4 trillion, presents immense opportunities for Ghanaian exporters, with the Tema Port serving as a critical conduit.
Top of Form
The Tema Port Expansion is a significant step in Ghana’s economic development, offering vast potential for boosting trade and creating employment. However, realizing this potential requires navigating the challenges of political governance, environmental sustainability, and stakeholder engagement. The success of this project will not only shape Ghana’s economic future but also its role in the larger narrative of regional and global trade dynamics.
ALBERT DERRICK FIATUI, is the Executive Director at the Centre for International Maritime Affairs, Ghana (CIMAG), an Advocacy, Research and Operational Policy Think- Tank, with focus on the Maritime Industry (Blue Economy) and general Ocean Governance.
E-mail: [email protected].
Dr. David King Boison is the esteemed CEO of Knowledge Web Centre, a prominent research and consulting firm