En Afrique, la Logistique victime d'une incompréhension jusqu'au plus haut sommet

In the popular imagination, doing logistics is nothing more than moving a commodity from point A to point B. This misunderstanding often leads to the concept of logistics being confused with transit-customs. The latter is only one link in the long logistics chain, which is more technical and broader than we think.

The lack of understanding of this sector, which has become essential in the governance of the world economy, would be less serious if it were the sole responsibility of ordinary citizens. However, it must be noted that public authorities also lose out at times and in places. This is particularly evident in the way certain ministerial departments are formulated and their fragmentation, which is the cause of many conflicts of interest.

Logistics professions as old as the history of mankind have never ceased to modernise and adapt to the course of the world's progress. Today, logistics has become a profession of the future that recruits and attracts many students.

However, while it is true that there are nowadays many training schools that offer training in transport and logistics, it is also true to say that the sector has a long way to go, through an unfailing understanding of the common man, but also and above all for the students who decide to make a career in it, as well as the governing authorities, both public and private.

It is in everyone's interest to put their hand in the paw in this pedagogical perspective imposed by the transport and logistics professions, an essential, even indispensable factor in the reduction of space and time, with all that this entails in terms of economic gain.

What is logistics called ?

Contrary to popular belief, logistics professionals define logistics as "the management of physical, financial and information flows between the supplier and the customer to meet a need at the lowest possible cost and within the shortest possible time while respecting the environment". ‘’

In the light of this authoritative definition, it is clear that logistics is a far cry from popular legend or from a layman's initial understanding of logistics, which would consist of moving goods from one end to the other. The most important thing for him would be to get there safely and at all costs.

Furthermore, as can be guessed from the above definition, logistics is present in all sectors of activity in a country. These main branches could be the following:

  • Purchasing-procurement;
  • Transport;
  • Handling;
  • Transit-customs;
  • Storage and warehousing;
  • Production ;
  • Distribution ;
  • Information systems

 

These different links form what is known as the logistics chain. Similarly, it is also necessary to specify that maritime transport alone represents approximately the ¾ of global logistics. This more or less significant percentage is due in particular to its large capacity in terms of volume and tonnage.  Statistics now show that some 80% of the goods transported worldwide are transported by sea. Some say that maritime transport is the very backbone of the international economy.

Still in a process of deconstructing these preconceived ideas or clichés about the logistics sector, it is obvious to dissociate the word transport from the large family that logistics encompasses in general. Indeed, these two terms (transport and logistics) are often used in juxtaposition. Even training schools sometimes fall into this trap when naming or formulating the diplomas they award to students.

For example, the sesames of students in Senegal and in most African countries often include the mention BTS Transport-Logistics or Master in Transport-Logistics.
Meanwhile in some developed countries, where the sector has become much more professionalized, they talk more about BTS in Supply Chain or Supply Chain. This obviously seems to us to be more coherent.

Misunderstanding ...right up to the top

If the citizen has a broad vision, not to say a crap ignorance of logistics, with the professional eye of the logistician, we also note that at the state level, the difficulties are much more complex, with in particular a disparate approach to transport.

Indeed, the first major difficulty that can be identified is the multiplicity of ministerial departments involved in the logistics sector. If we take the case of Senegal, for example, which is identical to the situation in many African countries, there are four ministries:

  • The Ministry of Land Transport, Infrastructure and Access ;
  • The Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Economy;
  • The Ministry of Tourism and Air Transport;
  • The Ministry of Telecommunications and Posts.

The direct consequence of this approach is that it is difficult to have a global vision of logistics as a single sector and to be able to provide adequate solutions to its problems. To this end, with this disparate approach, each ministry manages its portfolio autonomously.

And the coordination of government projects or actions that should be in place is often confronted with countless difficulties or telescopes.  The latter most often result in wasted time, lack of coordination, project overlaps, or even conflicts of interest between departments in the management of a juicy government project.

Faced with such a situation of overlap, the question the professional in the field might ask is: why this proliferation of departments for a sector that could be unified ? At the beginning of the first political alternation in Senegal in 2000, Abdoulaye Wade, then President of the Republic (2000-2012), seemed to have a good understanding of these issues. Under his magisterium, land and air transport were brought together in the same ministerial department.

On his arrival, his successor President Macky Sall, for his part, considered it necessary to split this ministry in two again.

This approach is not only common in Senegal. It is often used in most African countries. The political reality being what it is in Africa, some observers are not far from believing that this disparate approach, as costly as it is inefficient, also remains an option as desired as it is maintained in order to "house" a political clientele.

Thus, it can be said that political interests have largely taken precedence over the definition of a real logistics policy in Africa. To the great disadvantage of the sector!

Anything less is good for satisfying a political clientele. What about setting up a plethora of directorates or creating ministries, which for greater efficiency could be brought together in a single department, instead of an approach that is inefficient and above all costly.

Indeed, with this policy, it is not uncommon to see an increase in logistical costs without the authority realizing it. It was like what happened with the State's vehicle fleet in Senegal, which spent more than 20 billion in just one year on the acquisition and management of vehicles. Such a huge bill could be avoided if we had a well-developed logistics policy by further concentrating the sector, which is as unified as one could imagine.

However, he is pleased to see that all is not black in the picture. Indeed, elsewhere in Africa good examples are emerging. A country like the Cherifian Kingdom is adopting a logistics policy that could inspire many other African countries.

In addition, Morocco concentrates all its logistics activity in the same department. The Ministry of Equipment, Transport, Logistics and Water, groups together in its portfolio the maritime, road, rail, equipment and water. Here is a centralist approach which seems to us to be more interesting and winning. Which would be more logical, by the way. Insofar as logistics is present in equipment and water management.  Even if air transport is not included, there is more consistency in the name and the very formulation of this ministry in the Kingdom of Morocco.

The same is also true in France. In the country of Marianne, the logistics sector is managed by a single department. It is currently housed in the Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition.

The latter is assisted by a State Secretariat in charge of transport. In all likelihood, this will lead to better management of this sector.
All this to say that a good logistics policy could boost economic and social development in Africa, where, unfortunately, this sub-sector bows, at all scales, under the weight of clichés.

Happy reading !

Thierno Abdoulaye DIALLO : Consultant en Supply Chain Management