The World Changes, but Cities Do Not Move: on East Africa's Economic Geography and Integration

From AfricaCan End Poverty Fri Jan 4 2013, 09:58:38

In 1884, the General Act of Berlin Conference established borders of African colonies. Many of these "exogenous" borders brought about by Scramble of Africa could be still found on modern maps, now separating sovereign states. About one third of all countries of Sub-Saharan Africa - much larger portion compared to other parts of the world - are landlocked.

Since trade with other countries is important for economic development, and since transportation by sea is much cheaper than any other type of transportation, the evolutionary process of "endogenous" formation of the nation states in other regions left few countries without access to sea. It was not impossible, but certainly more difficult, to develop as a nation without such.

The borders affect the location of Africa's cities, many of which were founded in the late 19th - early 20th century. More landlocked countries generally mean more cities located inland. And even in the coastal countries, location of major cities was not infrequently dictated by the economic logic of colonialism. Nairobi is an example. A supply depot of the Uganda Railway built to export agricultural commodities from fertile inlands of East Africa was constructed in 1899 in the temperate highlands free of malaria, about 500 km away from the coast. Soon it became the railway's headquarters, a large colonial settlement, and a home to the region's largest industrial cluster serving East African markets.

The world has changed since. There are no more colonies in Africa, and the logic of today's global economy dictates that in order to achieve and sustain high rates of economic growth the low-income countries need to export manufactured goods (or services) to large markets. But the legacy of the past does affect the present: cities do not move even if the world changes, and in a highly competitive environment of the global economy, few firms wishing to serve global markets would choose to increase their transportation costs margins by locating ...

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