The political economy of international shipping in West Africa

Date of Completion

January 1992


Economics, Commerce-Business|Political Science, General|Transportation




International shipping, as an infrastructure of international trade, is a key source of power in world politics, and for developing countries, it allegedly contributes to their underdevelopment. So, in 1964, they embarked on a vigorous attempt to restructure the liberal regime governing world shipping and to replace it with one that would reflect their developmental aspirations. This attempt culminated in the adoption of the United Nations Convention on a Code of Conduct for Liner Conferences in 1974 which became law in 1983. This quest for a new international maritime order was integral to the larger demand for a new international economic order in the early 1970s.^ After almost 28 years, it has become obvious that developing countries have failed to change the liberal shipping regime. Liberal institutionalists attribute this failure to lack of leadership that is willing to bear the cost of creating a new regime. Neo-Marxists see it as another example of the inability of weak countries to develop within the capitalist system. This study departs from these limited views and argues that developing countries failed to change the international shipping regime essentially because they were confronted with the constraints of late industrialization and the structural changes in world politics at the point when they entered the industry.^ Integrating the late industrialization theory popularized by Alexander Gerschenkron and the structural power theory developed by Susan Strange, this study focuses on those structural and domestic circumstances which have changed, and which have contributed to the failure of this quest for a new international maritime order. West and Central Africa is used as a case study because it was one region that most vigorously sought to enforce the UN Code. Their experiences are then compared with those of four Southeast Asian countries.^ The study finds that structural changes in world shipping which were not anticipated in 1974, intra-regional maritime competition, and the impact of the organizational technology of the state and the responses of the relevant segments of the civil society to this style of political management account for the unravelling of the quest for a new order in world shipping. ^