Emanuele Massetti, Elena Ricci, 23 July 2014

Concentrated solar power generation in Northern African and Middle Eastern deserts could potentially supply up to 20% of European power demand. This column evaluates the technological, economic, and political feasibility of this idea. Although concentrated solar power is a proven technology that can work at scale, it is currently four or five times more expensive than fossil fuels. Concentrated solar power could play an important role in Europe’s energy mix after 2050, but only if geo-political challenges can be overcome.

Denis Cogneau, Alexander Moradi, 17 May 2014

The quasi-experiment of arbitrary border design allows for causal interpretation of institutional effects across territories. This column presents evidence on the impact of British and French colonial education policies in West Africa. British flexibility and French centralisation resulted in educational attainment differences that persist – across one border – even among some cohorts of the current workforce.

Julia Cagé, Valeria Rueda, 14 May 2014

African regions where Protestant missionaries were active had indigenous newspapers a century before other regions. This column argues, based on new research, that this difference has had lasting effects. Proximity to a mission that had a printing press in 1903 predicts newspaper readership today. Population density and light density (a proxy for economic development) is also higher today in regions nearer to missions that had printing presses. The results suggest that a well-functioning media – not Protestantism per se – was important for development.

Joachim De Weerdt, Kathleen Beegle, Jed Friedman, John Gibson, 18 February 2014

Whereas the Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty by half was achieved by 2010, the global hunger rate has only fallen by a third since 1990. Differences in survey design may account for part of this discrepancy. This column presents the results of a recent experiment in which households were randomly assigned to different survey designs. These different designs yield vastly different hunger estimates, ranging from 19% to 68% of the population being hungry.

Leonardo Iacovone, Vijaya Ramachandran, 07 February 2014

There is an urgent need for job creation in Africa yet something seems to be stunting firm growth. This column shows that African firms are about 20% smaller than their counterparts in other locations. It suggests small firms put the brake on growth as the burden of dealing with government and labour costs may increase with size, or perhaps as they start facing trust issues between managers and workers.

Ameet Morjaria, 05 February 2014

Ethnic favouritism is a longstanding problem in Africa. This column presents new evidence of this phenomenon and how democracy affects it. Data on road building in Kenya confirms strong ethnic favouritism that disappears during periods of democracy.

Holger Görg, Christiane Krieger-Boden, Adnan Seric, 10 December 2013

An expansion in the scope of foreign direct investment in sub-Saharan Africa promises to promote development in one of the poorest regions of the world. This column investigates the extent to which working with foreign multinationals enhances the capabilities of African firms. Acting as a supplier to a multinational enterprise improves a firm’s labour productivity, product and process innovation, while buying from a multinational improves only labour productivity. Governments should take advantage of these spillovers by promoting trade.

Lawrence Edwards, Robert Lawrence, 20 November 2013

Preferential import policies that allow developing markets to export to advanced economies are intended to dynamically promote development rather than just provide basic gains from trade. This column argues that the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act achieves the latter but not the former, distorting incentives along the value-added chain. While beneficial, preferential trade deals are not a panacea and are certainly not a replacement for pro-development policies.

Imran Rasul, Daniel Rogger, 19 November 2013

Around the world, civil service reform is viewed as necessary to deliver public services effectively and to foster development. However, evidence is thin on how the management of bureaucrats affects the provision of public services. This column presents new evidence from Nigeria linking completion rates of government projects to bureaucractic management practices. Greater autonomy is associated with higher completion rates, whereas performance monitoring and incentive schemes seem to backfire. The most effective private-sector management practices may not be suited to public sector bureaucracies.

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.

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