How Many African Countries Are Landlocked?

And why does it matter?

Landlocked African Countries
A map of the landlocked countries in Africa.

Out of Africa’s 55 countries, 16 of them are landlocked: Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, South Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In other words, about a third of the continent is made up of countries that have no access to the ocean or sea. Of Africa’s landlocked countries, 14 of them are ranked “low” on the Human Development Index (HDI), a statistic that takes into account factors such as life expectancy, education, and income per capita.

Why Does Being Landlocked Matter?

A country’s level of access to water can have an enormous effect on its economy. Being landlocked is more problematic for importing and exporting goods, because it is much cheaper to transport products over water than over land. Land transport also takes longer. These factors make it more difficult for landlocked countries to participate in the global economy, and landlocked nations thus grow more slowly than countries that have water access. 

Transit Costs

Because of decreased access to trade, landlocked countries are often cut off from selling and purchasing goods. The fuel prices that they have to pay and the amount of fuel they have to use to move goods and people are higher as well. Cartel control among the companies that truck the goods can make shipping prices artificially high.

Dependence on Neighboring Countries

In theory, international treaties should guarantee countries access to oceans, but it is not always this easy. “Transit states”—those with access to coasts—determine how to implement these treaties. They call the shots at granting shipping or port access to their landlocked neighbors, and if the governments are corrupt, that can add an extra layer of cost or delays in shipping goods, including border and port bottlenecks, tariffs, or customs regulations problems.

If their neighbors' infrastructure isn't well developed or border crossings are inefficient, that adds to the problems of the landlocked country and the slowdown. When their goods finally do make it to port, they wait longer to get their goods out of port as well, let alone getting to the port in the first place.

If the neighboring country is unsettled or at war, transportation for the landlocked country's goods could be impossible through that neighbor and its water access be much further afield—a span of years. 

Infrastructure Problems 

It is difficult for landlocked nations to build infrastructure and attract any outside investment in infrastructure projects that would allow easy border passage. Depending on a landlocked nation's geographic location, goods coming from there may have to travel long distances over poor infrastructure just to reach the neighbor with the coastal shipping access, let alone travel through that country to arrive at the coast. Poor infrastructure and issues with borders can lead to unpredictability in logistics and thus harm the country's companies' ability to compete in the global marketplace. 

Problems in Moving People

Poor infrastructure of landlocked nations hurts tourism from outside nations, and international tourism is one of the world's largest industries. But the lack of access to easy transit in and out of a country can have even worse effects; in times of natural disaster or violent regional conflict, escape is much more difficult for residents of landlocked nations.