At the turn of the 19th century, sub-Saharan Africa was the least urbanised region in the world, with only about 50 cities of more than 10,000 inhabitants. By 2010, the number of cities had increased to almost 3,000. This column, taken from a recent VoxEU eBook, explores how colonial railroad investments transformed Africa’s economic geography, and asks whether economic outcomes would have been different and development delayed without the railroads.
Rémi Jedwab, Edward Kerby, Alexander Moradi, 02 March 2017
Nathan Nunn, 27 February 2017
Evidence suggests that Africa's slave trades played an important part in the shaping of the continent not only in terms of economic outcomes, but cultural and social outcomes as well. This column, taken from a recently published VoxEU eBook, summarises studies that reveal the lasting toxic effects of Africa’s four waves of slave trades on contemporary development.
Stelios Michalopoulos, Elias Papaioannou, 14 February 2017
Over the past decades, economists working on growth have ‘rediscovered’ the importance of history, leading to the emergence of a vibrant, far-reaching inter-disciplinary stream of work. This column introduces the second eBook in a new three-part series which examines key themes in this emergent literature and discusses the impact they have on our understanding of the long-run influence of historical events on current economics. This volume focuses on attempts by economists to shed light on the effects of European colonisers on development and culture across Africa and Asia.
Martina Björkman Nyqvist, Lucia Corno, Damien de Walque, Jakob Svensson, 07 January 2017
Traditional HIV/AIDS education campaigns have not been completely effective in curtailing new infections. One potential reason behind this is that most of the infections occur among individuals who are willing to take risks when it comes to sexual behaviour, and campaigns have failed to specifically target these people. This column describes a new HIV intervention trialled in Lesotho that used a lottery to target such individuals and incentivise safer practices. HIV incidence was reduced by more than a fifth in treatment groups over the trial period. These results, combined with practical and cost advantages, suggest that such interventions could prove invaluable in the fight against HIV.
David Bloom, Michael Kuhn, Klaus Prettner, 20 October 2016
Africa’s total fertility rate and its dependency ratio have been falling since the 1980s, and are projected to fall further. This column looks at the potential growth effects of the continent's changing demography. The African economy has the potential to grow between 0.5 and 2 percentage points faster over the next five decades than it would without the projected fertility reduction. However, this 'demographic dividend' is dependent on the policies that African governments enact.
Eugene Bempong Nyantakyi, Mouna Ben Dhaou, Lamin M Drammeh, Mouhamadou Sy, 08 October 2016
Boosting Africa’s intra-regional and international trade requires a good understanding of the African trade finance landscape, including the identification of markets where the need is greatest. This column presents some of the major patterns of the market in Africa using primary survey data from commercial banks. Banks intermediate almost a third of trade activities across the continent, but still reject a significant value of trade finance applications mainly due to weak client creditworthiness and inadequate collateral.
, 01 September 2016
Growth in half a dozen sub-Saharan countries is across all sectors of the economy. In this video, John Sutton discusses how African countries can attract FDI and how they contribute to creating jobs. This video was recorded at the International Growth Centre.
Ernesto Dal Bó, Pablo Hernandez-Lagos, Sebastián Mazzuca, 26 July 2016
While cases of state failure have risen in the last decade, most notably in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, they are not a new phenomenon. Historical evidence from the early modern period, and even the Bronze Age, shows that the majority of formed states have failed rather than thrived. This column introduces the ‘paradox of civilisation’ to characterise the obstacles settlements face in establishing civilisations. The paradox defines the success of a civilisation as a trade-off between the ability to produce economic surplus and to protect it. It is therefore important to correctly balance military and economic support when providing aid.
Giacomo De Luca, Roland Holder, Paul Raschky, Michele Valsecchi, 21 July 2016
Ethnic favouritism is widely regarded as an African phenomenon, or at most a problem of poor and weakly institutionalised countries. This column uses data on night-time light intensity to challenge these preconceptions. Ethnic favouritism is found to be as prevalent outside of Africa as it is within, and not restricted to poor or autocratic nations either. Rather, re-election concerns appear to be an important driver of the practice.
Taryn Dinkelman, Martine Mariotti, 20 July 2016
Economic research on migration tends to focus on workers, labour markets, or communities in receiving countries. However, labour migration and earnings could have important impacts on migrants’ home countries. This column explores these effects by focusing on circular migration from Malawi to South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. Malawian districts that had the greatest exposure to migration shocks have better educated workers, even three decades later. These findings point to potential ‘brain gain’ effects for sending communities.
Marco Manacorda, Andrea Tesei, 22 May 2016
Digital technologies have been widely used for political activism in recent years, including during the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the Indignados movement in Spain. This column reports research showing that the growing use of mobile phones in Africa leads to more political protests during recessions and periods of national crisis. The mobilising potential of digital technologies is more pronounced in autocratic countries and those where the raditional media are under state control, suggesting that this technology may play a key role in fostering political freedom.
Alberto Alesina, Benedetta Brioschi, Eliana La Ferrara, 25 March 2016
Domestic violence is a significant public health problem with high economic and social costs. This column discusses the roots of domestic violence in sub-Saharan countries. The evidence shows that the economic value of women affects violence perpetrated against them by men. Where ancient socioeconomic arrangements made women economically valuable, social norms developed in ways that viewed women as productive and more equal to men. These gender roles bring about less intra-family violence today.
Lars Ivar Oppedal Berge, Kjetil Bjorvatn, Simon Galle, Edward Miguel, Daniel Posner, Bertil Tungodden, Kelly Zhang, 11 February 2016
Ethnic divisions have been shown to adversely affect economic performance and political stability, particularly in Africa. However, the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. Using experimental data from Kenya, this column studies whether one potential mechanism – co-ethnic bias – affects altruism. Strikingly, most tests yield no evidence of co-ethnic bias, suggesting that other mechanisms must be driving the negative association between ethnic diversity and economic and political outcomes in Africa.
Stelios Michalopoulos, Elias Papaioannou, 24 December 2015
The carving up of Africa by colonial powers is often a touch-stone for those concerned with African development and underdevelopment. This column looks into the effect imposed borders had on splitting ethnicities across countries. It finds that colonial border designs have spurred political violence and that ethnic partitioning is systematically linked to civil conflict, discrimination by the national government, and instability.
Tessa Bold, 05 December 2015
With the introduction of new technologies such as fertiliser and hybrid seeds, agricultural productivity has experienced an unprecedented rise in the past decades in almost all parts of the world. But not in Sub-Saharan Africa. This column studies the fertilisers available in Sub-Saharan Africa. It turns out that there is a huge variation in terms of fertiliser quality. Farmers should be meaningfully integrated into markets and supply chains to ensure quality and trust.
Toke Aidt, Zareh Asatryan, Lusine Badalyan, Friedrich Heinemann, 28 November 2015
Central bank independence was supposed to end politically driven monetary policy. This column discusses new evidence showing a sizeable spike in the growth rate of cash and overnight bank deposits centred on election days. The spike is present in countries with weak political institutions, but not in OECD countries. The cycle seems to be related to the cash demand created by systemic vote buying.
Ernesto Zedillo, 26 August 2015
In this column, Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization and ex-President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, introduces an eBook he co-edited that illustrates some of the ambitious but necessary steps needed to unleash the tremendous potential of the African people towards the development of their nations.
Graziella Bertocchi, Arcangelo Dimico, 30 July 2015
HIV/AIDS is an endemic economic problem for significant parts of Africa. This column presents evidence suggesting that the demographic shock induced by the slave trade still shapes the contemporary family structures and sexual behaviour of many African countries. Policymakers and human rights organisations should understand that the struggle against HIV/AIDS involves the eradication of deeply rooted beliefs and practices.
Sara Lowes, Nathan Nunn, James Robinson, Jonathan Weigel, 18 February 2015
Ethnic identity can fracture nations – it is a leading explanation of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. This column presents evidence from a psychological test that reveals how members of different ethnic groups from the Democratic Republic of the Congo form their respective ethnic identities. This Implicit Association Test reveals that people have a small, statistically significant bias towards own-group. The magnitude suggests that biases are consciously held, rather than being a conditioned response.
Amir Attaran, Roger Bate, Ginger Jin, Aparna Mathur, 09 October 2014
There is a perception amongst pharmaceutical experts that some Indian manufacturers and/or their distributors segment the global medicine market into portions that are served by different quality medicines. This column finds that drug quality is poorer among Indian-labelled drugs purchased inside African countries than among those purchased inside India or middle-income countries. Substandard drugs – non-registered in Africa and containing insufficient amounts of the active ingredient – are the biggest driver of this quality difference.