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Transportation Technology and Economic Change: The Impact of Colonial Railroads on City Growth in Africa

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  • Remi Jedwab
  • Alexander Moradi

Abstract

What is the impact of modern transportation technology on long-run economic change in poor countries with high trade costs? Rail construction in colonial Sub-Saharan Africa provides a natural experiment: 90% of African railroad lines were built before independence, in a context where headloading was the dominant transportation technology. Using new data on railroads and cities over one century within one country, Ghana, and Africa as a whole, we find large permanent effects of transportation technology on economic development. First, colonial railroads had strong effects on commercial agriculture and urban growth before independence. We exploit various identification strategies to ensure these effects are causal. Second, using the fact that African railroads fell largely out of use post-independence, due to mismanagement and lack of maintenance, we show that colonial railroads had a persistent impact on cities. While colonial sunk investments (e.g., schools, hospitals and roads) partly contributed to urban path dependence, evidence suggests that railroad cities persisted because their early emergence served as a mechanism to coordinate contemporary investments for each subsequent period. Railroad cities are also wealthier than non-railroad cities of similar sizes today. This suggests a world where shocks to economic geography can trigger an equilibrium in which cities will emerge to facilitate the accumulation of factors, and thus have long-term effects on economic growth.

Suggested Citation

  • Remi Jedwab & Alexander Moradi, 2013. "Transportation Technology and Economic Change: The Impact of Colonial Railroads on City Growth in Africa," CSAE Working Paper Series 2013-17, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  • Handle: RePEc:csa:wpaper:2013-17
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    File URL: http://www.csae.ox.ac.uk/materials/papers/csae-wps-2013-17.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Huillery, Elise, 2014. "The Black Man's Burden: The Cost of Colonization of French West Africa," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 74(01), pages 1-38, March.
    2. repec:spo:wpmain:info:hdl:2441/7o52iohb7k6srk09na41pc24o is not listed on IDEAS
    3. J. Vernon Henderson & Adam Storeygard & David N. Weil, 2012. "Measuring Economic Growth from Outer Space," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(2), pages 994-1028, April.
    4. Robin Burgess & Remi Jedwab & Edward Miguel & Ameet Morjaria & Gerard Padró i Miquel, 2015. "The Value of Democracy: Evidence from Road Building in Kenya," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 105(6), pages 1817-1851, June.
    5. repec:cep:stieop:45 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Junichi Yamasaki, 2017. "Railroads, Technology Adoption, and Modern Economic Development: Evidence from Japan," ISER Discussion Paper 1000, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University.
    2. Maystadt, Jean-François & Duranton, Gilles, 2014. "The development push of refugees: Evidence from Tanzania:," IFPRI discussion papers 1377, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    3. Rosenthal, Stuart S. & Ross, Stephen L., 2015. "Change and Persistence in the Economic Status of Neighborhoods and Cities," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier.
    4. Redding, Stephen J. & Turner, Matthew A., 2015. "Transportation Costs and the Spatial Organization of Economic Activity," Handbook of Regional and Urban Economics, Elsevier.
    5. Federico Tadei, 2017. "Measuring Extractive Institutions: Colonial Trade and Price Gaps in French Africa," Working Papers 0109, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    6. Jean-Francois Maystadt & Gilles Duranton, 2014. "The development push of refugees," Working Papers 66910685, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    7. Volpe Martincus, Christian & Carballo, Jerónimo & Cusolito, Ana, 2017. "Roads, exports and employment: Evidence from a developing country," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 21-39.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Transportation Technology; Development; Path Dependence; Growth;

    JEL classification:

    • R4 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics
    • R1 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights
    • N97 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Africa; Oceania

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