Apapa, the Lagos town that hosts Nigeria’s largest and busiest port, is synonymous with gridlock. Roads leading into the port are lined by scores of trucks waiting days or weeks to be allowed into terminals where they load containers for transfer to warehouses.
Most drivers, customs agents, and terminal operators trudging along at Apapa and other African ports are men, but some of the major visionaries tackling the continent’s cargo transportation problems are female entrepreneurs. With footprints in Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya, their companies are eliminating inefficiencies that increase the cost of goods for consumers at the last-mile of delivery.
Making complex supply chains visible
In 2018, Miishe Addy founded Jetstream to enable importers and exporters track shipments to and from Africa. Jetstream exists because at most African ports, offline activities within the shipping value chain take long periods to complete, sometimes due to poor port infrastructure but also bribery. Addy’s idea is that by using supply chain management software that integrates every step—from farm or factory through the port to final destination—freight forwarders and cargo owners can plan better with near real-time data. “We’re bringing different stakeholders on a single platform where they can interact and see their full supply chains,” Addy says.
It is one thing to have visibility, but empowering stakeholders to take meaningful action is just as important. Shipments do get stuck in the process when their owners lack money to pay customs charges or terminal fees. Addy says Jetstream has given out over $450,000 in trade finance loans for such needs since 2019, ranging from $500 to $30,000 checks per transaction. The startup’s successful rollout in Ghana helped it secure $3 million in seed funding this year, and after opening in Nigeria too, Addy says Jetstream will be at every major African port by 2028.
Incentivizing trucks is key
While Jetstream’s strengths are in decongesting ports in west Africa, companies like Lori Systems in Kenya match merchants with truck drivers in an Uber-like fashion through web-based apps. Lori Systems’s CEO is Uche Ogboi, a former investment banker at Citi and venture capitalist at EchoVC, a pan-African firm. She took over the reins from Lori’s founder in July but earned her chops as chief operating officer for two years, a role in which she helped scale the startup’s entry into Nigeria in 2019, and guided it to 40% cost savings through last year’s pandemic business cycle. “For our investors and stakeholders, I know and understand what it takes to scale Lori to become a multi-billion-dollar company on the continent,” she told TechCabal.
Like Jetstream, Lori has a financing component too in the form of fuel financing for truck owners. It is essentially an incentive to ensure trucks are available to move goods through roads that are tedious to navigate. But in the long-term, Ogboi’s assignment is to make Lori the company that best adapts new technologies to reduce haulage costs in Africa.
Despite the transparency and speed their companies advance, entrepreneurs like Addy and Ogboi may never solve foundational infrastructure problems—dilapidated roads, dingy terminals, customs agents’ corruption—that ail African logistics. Neither Jetstream nor Lori Systems can guarantee cargo arrival times the way ride-hailing apps do for passenger road transport.
But logistics in Africa is no longer a single story of problems. Solutions, though at early stages of deployment, are being based on blueprints being written by female entrepreneurs.
By Alexander Onukwue