Thorvaldur Gylfason, 17 November 2013

Based on statistical measures of different degrees of democracy vs. autocracy, this article briefly reviews the progress of democracy around the world during the past 212 years, and places democratic developments in Africa since 1960 in that context. Democracy is positively associated with education, which in turn is associated with lower fertility and greater longevity. Democracy is also associated with reduced corruption. Together, these effects suggest democracy should be good for growth – a hypothesis that is borne out by the data.

James Fenske, 09 November 2013

Several theories link polygamy to poverty. Polygamy is concentrated in west Africa and has declined in recent decades. Geographic variation in women’s agricultural productivity does not predict differences in the prevalence of polygamy, but historical inequality and exposure to the slave trade do. Although contemporary female education does not reduce polygamy, areas with more educational investment in the past have less polygamy today. Conflict and lower rainfall lead to small increases in polygamy, whereas lower child mortality leads to a large decrease. National policies appear to have little effect.

Stelios Michalopoulos, Elias Papaioannou, 11 October 2013

During the ‘Scramble for Africa,’ the arbitrary design of colonial borders partitioned many ethnicities across two or more contemporary African states. This column presents recent research that exploits this quasi-experiment to study the effect of institutions on development. The overall effect of institutions is insignificant; but this masks considerable heterogeneity driven by diminishing government influence in remote areas. These findings conflict with previous cross-country work in economics, but support arguments put forward by the African historiography.

Philipp Hühne, Birgit Meyer, Peter Nunnenkamp, 31 July 2013

One of the few areas where multilateral trade talks are making progress is the so-called Aid-for-Trade Initiative designed to remove frictional barriers to trade such as in transportation, communication and energy infrastructure. This column discusses research suggesting that both donors and recipients benefit from the aid. Aid-for-Trade, however, seems to best promote the exports of middle-income countries rather than, for instance, sub-Saharan African ones.

James Fenske, Namrata Kala, 11 June 2013

The slave trade continues to shape modern Africa. This column analyzes environmental shocks to the supply side of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and their long-term effects. During warm periods, African ports exported fewer slaves because lower agricultural productivity raised slavers' costs. These temperature fluctuations had long-run impacts, and ports that experienced a warmer period during the decades when the slave trade was most active appear more developed today.

Ataman Aksoy, Bernard Hoekman, 15 May 2013

Increasing agricultural productivity and expanding the agribusiness industry in sub-Saharan Africa is critical for poverty reduction, food security and economic growth. Numerous recent national, regional and G20-level programmes have been initiated to that effect. This column discusses new research showing that political economy forces have a major bearing on the success or failure of agricultural reform programmes. To be successful, policymakers must bear in mind the extent to which existing elites are affected by the redistribution associated with increasing returns for rural producers.

Maria Kuecken, Marie-Anne Valfort, 09 March 2013

Are African education policies reaching the marginalised? This column reports results from a cross-country analysis, finding that the sharing of textbooks has a positive effect only for the most privileged students. For the average student, textbook access has no impact on academic outcomes. Indeed, less privileged students perform poorly due to a combination of low parent and teacher expectation, poor health, and routine classroom disruptions. It is these factors that reduce the effectiveness of policies like the improvement of access to textbooks. For education to be truly for all, educational reforms must target the least privileged students.

Alberto Alesina, Stelios Michalopoulos, Elias Papaioannou, 04 February 2013

A large body of research has shown ethnic diversity to have a negative impact on development. This column suggests that it is the unequal concentration of wealth across ethnic lines that is detrimental for development rather than diversity per se. It shows that ethnic inequality, measured using ethno-linguistic maps and satellite images of light density at night, is associated with lower GDP per capita, worse living conditions, and lower levels of education.

Leander Heldring, James Robinson, 10 January 2013

Most of Africa spent two generations under colonial rule. This column argues that, contrary to some recent commentaries highlighting the benefits of colonialism, it is this intense experience that has significantly retarded economic development across the continent. Relative to any plausible counterfactual, Africa is poorer today than it would have been had colonialism not occurred.

Paul Brenton, 08 January 2013

Africa is not achieving its potential in food trade, increasing the risk of widespread hunger and malnutrition. This column argues that the most serious problems for the continent are problems of political economy and barriers along the value chain. The good news is that, despite demand for food throughout Africa predicted to double over the next decade, governments can act now to overcome these problems. With a regional approach to food security, African governments can spur on benefits to farmers and consumers as well as job creation along the value chain of staples.

David Fine, Susan Lund, 04 December 2012

Africa's recent growth is impressive, yet its rate of stable job creation is anything but. This column argues that Africa needs rapid growth in stable, wage-paying jobs in order to ensure future stable growth and prosperity. African governments must develop and implement targeted jobs strategies – which focus on labour-intensive, competitive industries – to get the most out Africa’s rapid economic emergence.

Stelios Michalopoulos, Alireza Naghavi, Giovanni Prarolo, 08 December 2012

Islam spread remarkably quickly before the era of European colonialism. This column argues that an important economic factor in determining the geographic range was spatial inequality that necessitated a politically unifying force like Islam. Regions that harboured such economic inequality were especially ripe for a system like Islam that offered progressive redistributive tenets with centralised authority to enforce them.

Ingo Borchert, Batshur Gootiiz, Arti Grover Goswami, Aaditya Mattoo, 29 November 2012

Services trade policies in both the telecommunications and the air transport sector are more restrictive in landlocked than in coastal countries. Why would landlocked countries choose restrictive policies if they have such a big stake in improving international connectivity? This column suggests the explanation could be related to both weak political institutions and adverse location. It adds that trade-facilitating aid will earn a poor return if not accompanied by services reform.

Mohsin Khan, 08 November 2012

Since the Arab Spring, Egypt has seen some political transformation. But what of its economic policy? This column debates whether Egypt, under its newly elected president, will pursue both badly needed short- and long-term economic reform, or succumb to myopic populism.

Monica Eaton, Michael Ferrantino, 04 September 2012

The Eurozone debt crisis is not simply a problem for industrialised countries. This column shows how its effects are being felt throughout Africa.

Elias Papaioannou, Stelios Michalopoulos, 29 July 2012

This paper investigates the role of deep-rooted pre-colonial ethnic institutions in shaping comparative regional development within African countries. The authors find that regional development is significantly higher in the historical homelands of ethnicities with centralised, hierarchical, pre-colonial political institutions.

Jaime de Melo, Alberto Portugal-Perez, 29 May 2012

Joining a global supply chain is one of the few ways for low-income countries to industrialise in today’s competitive market. Rules on their use of imported fabric therefore have important consequences for development. This column exploits a quasi-experimental situation to show that the gains from rich nations applying more relaxed rules on imported inputs are huge – six times greater than the simple act of removing tariffs.

Markus Brückner, Daniel Lederman, 02 May 2012

The recent growth performance in sub-Saharan Africa has been remarkable given that, for over four decades since 1960, real GDP per capita growth had been dismal, averaging less than 0.5% per annum. This column, using within-country variation and instrumental variables, argues that increases in openness to trade are behind this performance.

Paul Brenton, 17 March 2012

Africa trades too little with itself. This column argues that what is needed is an approach that reforms policies that create non-tariff barriers; puts in place appropriate regulations that allow cross-border movement of services suppliers; delivers competitive regionally integrated services markets; and builds the institutions that are necessary to allow small producers and traders to access open regional markets.

Rohini Somanathan, Stefan Dercon, Nzinga Broussard, 27 February 2012

Food aid can prevent starvation – but only if the neediest actually receive it. CEPR DP8861 examines how food aid in Ethiopian villages can be biased away from those who need it most. Households with greater local influence or groups targeted by international agencies often receive more than they need. Knowing more about these biases, the authors conclude, can improve distribution and save lives.

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