Starting on November 19, Houthi attacks and counter-strikes on commercial ships transiting through the Bab al-Mandab strait along the Red Sea have been a major disruptor of international trade through this vital artery. A 32km wide channel connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, the strait is a strategic maritime chokepoint. The route from the strait to the Suez Canal carries over 10% of all international trade, representing about 20% of global container traffic. It was the centre of global attention in 2021 when a container ship, the EverGiven, got stuck in the Suez Canal and obstructed maritime traffic for six days. As a result of the attacks and the counter strikes, half of the fleet of ships plying this lane have been forced to use alternative routes that incur longer transit times and higher shipping costs. For global consumers, this is likely to result in a lower supply of goods coupled with higher prices within an environment of persistent inflation.

Whenever there is a global shock – from COVID-19 to trade wars – media headlines usually quickly emerge saying African countries will be the worst hit. We’ve explained in many contexts why such headlines are often misguided, but what about this new shock? Will the African continent be the worst hit?

The impact of this Red Sea crisis on African countries is likely to be an incredibly mixed bag given the diversity of the countries on the continent. On the one hand, African countries that rely on trade through the Red Sea—particularly those in the East Africa region—are likely to suffer negative consequences such as being unable to find key manufactured goods on shelves, and or higher costs of certain goods. In contrast, others may face delays in selling their exports. On the other hand, African countries with coasts may benefit from higher revenues as shipping vessels reroute through their waters and ports.

Of all African countries, Egypt, in particular, will be the hardest hit by the crisis. Transit fees levied on vessels passing through the Suez Canal are an important source of revenue and foreign exchange for the Egyptian government. In the financial year ending in June 2023, Egypt earned USD 9.4 billion from the Suez Canal. In the hopes of mobilizing more revenue, the Egyptian government recently increased the transit fees levied on canal vessels.

According to the IMF PortWatch, there has been a reduction of over 30% in the volume of traffic going through the Suez Canal following the attacks. Whereas ships are continuing to transit through the canal, the significant reduction in traffic volumes has resulted in a 40% reduction in revenues for Egypt. If the situation persists, the country is likely to continue losing millions of dollars. Given Egypt’s ongoing economic difficulties which include a shortage of foreign currency and high debt servicing costs, loss of revenue from the Suez Canal bodes ill for the country. The state uses this revenue to fund its welfare budget which was already slashed to address a large public debt. Further reductions to welfare spending tend to affect the poorest in society and could even stir social unrest.

But it is not only Egypt that is likely to suffer from this crisis; countries in East Africa are also likely to be negatively affected.

First, the Suez Canal is an important route for imports coming from Europe to East Africa. For many countries in the region, imports from Europe mainly consist of manufactured goods. For instance, machinery and transport equipment account for the largest percentage of imports from the EU for Ethiopia (47.2%), Uganda (30.8%) and Kenya (24.1%). This was followed by chemical products which account for 36%, 30.4% and 22.7% of Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya’s imports from the EU. As such, countries in East Africa are likely to see reduced supply, and/or increase in prices for machinery and transport equipment as well as chemical products from Europe.

Secondly, East African countries that export goods via the Red Sea are likely to experience delays. For instance, Uganda exports more than 75% of its coffee products to EU countries via sea route. Ethiopia and Kenya’s exports to the EU represent about 20% of their overall exports respectively, many of which are transported through the Red Sea. Ethiopia in particular heavily relies on the port of Djibouti along the Red Sea to handle 95% of its trade. Since 2022, Kenya has been working to move 50% of its exports of fresh produce—accounting for 90% of its exports to Europe—from airfreight to sea freight. Therefore, these countries are likely to experience delays in their exports to Europe.

In addition, following the severing of all Russian energy imports, many countries in Europe are now reliant on oil from Asia and the Middle East which is transported via the Red Sea. An increase in global oil prices due to increased costs of shipping will affect many countries in Africa, especially those that rely on imported petroleum.

However, other African countries are already benefitting from the disruption. Countries in Southern Africa and Western Africa have emerged as alternative routes for ships avoiding the Red Sea. As a result, ports in Africa have experienced an increase of almost 70% in traffic volumes. Even relatively smaller ports in countries such as Namibia and Mauritius are benefitting from the windfall. These ports are preferred for bunkering because larger deep-water seaports such as Mombasa and Durban cannot handle the entirety of the expected volume of traffic.

As the old adage goes, never let a crisis go to waste. So, how can Africa benefit from this crisis in the long term?

First, African countries should increase investment in building better port infrastructure. The increase in traffic volumes at several African ports has exposed the inadequacy of Africa’s port facilities. Currently, Africa is responsible for approximately 6% of global maritime trade despite roughly 90% of its imports and exports being seaborne. This situation should provide African countries with the impetus to make the necessary investments to take advantage of the opportunity at hand. Indeed, even before this crisis, several African countries such as Kenya and Tanzania have been investing heavily in upgrading their port infrastructure.

Second, in addition to upgrading their port infrastructure, African countries should also intensify efforts to build regional and cross-country infrastructure across the continent to reduce economic dependence on shipping. Infrastructure connectivity in the African hinterland will boost intra-African trade and create new revenue-generation opportunities for African governments dependent on shipping.

Third, African countries should aim to build self-sufficiency in critical sectors such as energy and manufacturing to reduce dependency on international goods that leaves the continent vulnerable to external disruptions. For instance, with its sizeable amount of oil reserves, African countries should invest in refining capabilities to change the continent’s position as a net exporter of crude oil and a net importer of petroleum products.

As with other cases in the past, with COVID-19 being the most recent one, the mixed impact of the Red Sea crisis on Africa shows that the continent is not predisposed to suffer the worst of global shocks. The heterogeneous nature of African countries ensures that they experience global shocks differently. Indeed, many a time such crises present lucrative opportunities for African countries. With the volatile and uncertain state of global affairs, surely there will be many such opportunities. Capitalizing on these opportunities, however, requires African countries, to work closely with the private sector and development partners to make the necessary investments, especially in infrastructure development.

This post was originally published on Ventures Africa. To view it click here.

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Trevor Lwere

Research and Coordination Analyst

Trevor Lwere is a Research and Coordination analyst at Development Reimagined with a background in Economics and Global Affairs. His interests include geopolitics, geoeconomics and economic development. He holds a Masters’ degree in Global Affairs fro Tsinghua University and a BA Economics from the University of Notre Dame.

Yujie Shi

 Policy and Research Analyst

Yuejie Shi is a Research and Data Analyst at Development Reimagined with a special focus on Global Trade and China-Africa Trade.

Sena Voncujovi

Research Analyst

Sena Voncujovi is a research and policy analyst at Development Reimagined. Voncujovi specializes in global health issues, Japan-Africa relations, and China-Africa relations. He served as the Editor-in-chief of Peking University’s Africa Think Tank (PATT) during his master’s in International Relations & Politics as a Yenching Scholar. Voncujovi previously advised the Ghanaian government for the 2019 TICAD 7 Conference held in Yokohama. He is the co-founder of Jaspora, Tokyo’s largest community of African diasporan diplomats, changemakers, professionals, students, and business people.

Rugare Mukanganga


Rugare is an economist at Development Reimagined, providing economic and data analysis support across projects.

Yixin Yu

Research Analyst

Yixin is a Junior Research Analyst and her focus areas is on public-private partnership and entrepreneurship. She has over three years of working experience in both private and public sectors in Ethiopia. She was the China Liaison Officer for project ‘Partnership for Investment and Growth in Africa’ at International Trade Centre, where she accumulated rich experience in investment and trade promotion.

Ivory Kairo

Communications Support

Ivory is a Kenyan lawyer with experience in policy research and analysis. She also supports the communications team through liaising with African brands, creating graphic content and other external outputs at AR. Ivory speaks English, Swahili and French

Huiyi Chen

Partnership Development

Huiyi Chen is a Research and Coordination Analyst on China-Africa cooperation and leading the engagement with Chinese stakeholders at Development Reimagined.

Jinyu Chen

Research Analyst | Paris, France

Jinyu is a dual-degree Master’s student at Sciences Po & Peking University.  At Africa Reimagined, Jinyu produces research to foster better mutual understanding between African clients and Chinese consumers. 


Jade Scarfe

Communications Support
Jade is a research analyst and communication support at Africa Reimagined. She supports with liaising with African brands, creating content and gathering China market research.

Yike Fu

China-Africa Policy Analyst

Yike Fu is a Policy Analyst and has been responsible for leading numerous areas of work, including on debt analysis in Africa and beyond, and China-Africa trade and investment logistics and analysis. She is the co-author of “African Debt Guide”, in which she challenged the narrative that Africa is in the midst of a new debt crisis by analysing data back to the 1970s and adopting new metrics to present the real story behind the data. She also developed a benchmark to compare the financial distribution of development partners such as the UK, US, Japan, France and China in Africa. Prior to her role at DR she worked at the International Finance Corporation and African Union Representational Mission to the US. She holds a Masters in International Affairs from George Washington University.

Rosie Wigmore

Project Manager | Beijing, PRC

Rosie is the Project Manager of Africa Reimagined (AR) at Development Reimagined (DR) where she supports high-end African brands with entering the Chinese market by operating services such as trademark protection, Chinese market research, Chinese partnership building, and Africa to China logistical support and import/export services. Rosie has worked with DR for over two years now with proven success in helping high-end African brands navigate the Chinese market. She is extremely passionate about her work because more African brands selling in the Chinese marketplace means African countries can export MORE value-added goods, create MORE jobs and foster MORE innovation in African countries.

Leah Lynch

Deputy Director | Beijing, PRC

Leah Lynch is Deputy Director of Development Reimagined (DR), and head of the China office. Leah has over 10 years of experience in development and has lived in China for over 8 years. Leah has also travelled extensively around Asia and Africa for research. Leah supports the strategic direction of the team across China, with a mission to deliver high quality research on sustainable development and poverty reduction. Leah is also Chair of the Sustainability Forum at the British Chamber of Commerce in China, providing direction on sustainability initiatives for British and Chinese business. Leah has also consulted on various evaluations on UK aid (ICAI) and is a specialist on development cooperation from the UK and China. Leah has also consulted on various UN projects, including providing support to the UN China team during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prior to DR, Leah was at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) China, supporting the UN’s portfolio on communication strategies, China’s South- South Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Before UNDP, Leah lived and worked in Kenya developing sustainable water policies for the Kenyan government.

Hannah Ryder

Founder and CEO 

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE’s International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.


We support our clients throughout the whole onboarding and sales process on Chinese e-commerce platforms including registration, international and China-mainland logistics, storage, payment transfers, and marketing & advertising strategies.

In addition to supporting our clients with onboarding onto e-commerce platforms or developing their own WeChat stores, we also have our own Africa Reimagined e-commerce stores for our clients to sell on.
Kiliselect on WeChat Stores: Africa Reimagined launched on Kiliselect, which is a foremost e-commerce store for premium African products in China and the Chinese branch of East Africa’s Kilimall. It houses brands from a range of sectors including food and beverage, skincare and homeware. Kiliselect is found on WeChat Stores, which gives the store access to 1.2 billion active WeChat users across China.
JD-Worldwide: Next year, Africa Reimagined will open the first ever flagship, pan-Africa e-commerce store for premium African brands on JD-Worldwide, the cross-border e-commerce platform of China’s largest retailer, It will sell exclusively luxury African brands from a range of sectors including, fashion and jewellery, food and beverage, skincare. and homeware.