Economic and Political Factors in Infrastructure Investment: Evidence from Railroads and Roads in Africa 1960–2015

September 2017

Remi Jedwab and Adam Storeygard

IIEP Working Paper 2019-9

Abstract: Transport investment has played an important role in the economic development of many countries. Starting from a low base, African countries have recently initiated several massive transportation infrastructure projects. However, surprisingly little is known about the current levels, past evolution, and correlates of transportation infrastructure in Africa. In this paper, we introduce a new data set on the evolution of the stocks of railroads (1862-2015) and multiple types of roads (1960-2015) for 43 sub-Saharan African countries. First, we compare our estimates with those from other available data sets, such as the World Development Indicators. Second, we document the aggregate evolution of transportation investments over the past century in Africa. We confirm that railroads were a “colonial” transportation technology, whereas paved roads were a “post-colonial” technology. We also highlight how investment patterns have followed economic patterns. Third, we report conditional correlations between 5-year infrastructure growth and several geographic, economic and political factors during the period 1960-2015. We find strong correlations between transportation investments and economic development as well as more political factors including pre-colonial centralization, ethnic fractionalization, European settlement, natural resource dependence, and democracy. This suggests that non-economic factors may have a significant role in the ability of countries to invest in these public goods.

JEL Codes: O11; O18; O20; H54; R11; R12; R40; N77

Keywords: Transportation Infrastructure; Public Investment; Railroads; Roads; Paved Roads; Africa; Growth; Institutions; Comparative Development; History

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