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History, Path Dependence and Development: Evidence from Colonial Railroads, Settlers and Cities in Kenya


  • Remi Jedwab
  • Edward Kerby
  • Alexander Moradi


Little is known about the extent and forces of urban path dependence in developing countries. Railroad construction in colonial Kenya provides a natural experiment to study the emergence and persistence of this spatial equilibrium. Using new data at a fine spatial level over one century shows that colonial railroads causally determined the location of European settlers, which in turn decided the location of the main cities of the country at independence. Railroads declined and settlers left after independence, yet cities persisted. Their early emergence served as a mechanism to coordinate investments in the post-independence period, yielding evidence for how path dependence influences development.

Suggested Citation

  • Remi Jedwab & Edward Kerby & Alexander Moradi, 2014. "History, Path Dependence and Development: Evidence from Colonial Railroads, Settlers and Cities in Kenya," CSAE Working Paper Series 2014-04, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  • Handle: RePEc:csa:wpaper:2014-04

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    1. Wahl, Fabian, 2015. "The long shadow of history: Roman legacy and economic development - evidence from the German limes," Hohenheim Discussion Papers in Business, Economics and Social Sciences 08-2015, University of Hohenheim, Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences.
    2. Lin, Jeffrey, 2015. "The puzzling persistence of place," Business Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, issue Q2, pages 1-8.
    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. Mesbah Motamed & Raymond Florax & William Masters, 2014. "Agriculture, transportation and the timing of urbanization: Global analysis at the grid cell level," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 19(3), pages 339-368, September.
    5. Okoye, Dozie & Pongou, Roland, 2015. "Sea Change: The Competing Long-Run Impacts of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Missionary Activity in Africa," MPRA Paper 66221, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. L. DeBenedictis & AM. Pinna, 2015. "Islands as 'Bad Geography'. Insularity, Connectedness, Trade Costs and Trade," Working Paper CRENoS 201504, Centre for North South Economic Research, University of Cagliari and Sassari, Sardinia.
    7. Remi Jedwab & Alexander Moradi, 2016. "The Permanent Effects of Transportation Revolutions in Poor Countries: Evidence from Africa," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 98(2), pages 268-284, May.
    8. Jean-Francois Maystadt & Gilles Duranton, 2014. "The development push of refugees," Working Papers 66910685, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    9. Cemal Eren Arbatli & Gunes Gokmen, 2016. "Minorities, Human Capital and Long-Run Development: Persistence of Armenian and Greek Influence in Turkey," CESifo Working Paper Series 6268, CESifo Group Munich.
    10. Pfeifer, Gregor & Wahl, Fabian & Marczak, Martyna, 2016. "Illuminating the world cup effect: Night lights evidence from South Africa," Hohenheim Discussion Papers in Business, Economics and Social Sciences 16-2016, University of Hohenheim, Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences.
    11. Wouter Zant, 2015. "Trains, Trade and Transaction Costs: How does Domestic Trade by Rail affect Market Prices of Malawi Agricultural Commodities?," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 15-055/V, Tinbergen Institute, revised 22 Jul 2016.
    12. Dozie Okoye & Roland Pongou & Tite Yokossi, 2016. "On the Dispensability of New Transportation Technologies : Evidence from Colonial Railroads in Nigeria," Working Papers 1620E, University of Ottawa, Department of Economics.

    More about this item


    Path Dependence; Urbanisation; Transportation; Colonialism;

    JEL classification:

    • R11 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Regional Economic Activity: Growth, Development, Environmental Issues, and Changes
    • R12 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Size and Spatial Distributions of Regional Economic Activity; Interregional Trade (economic geography)
    • R40 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics - - - General
    • O18 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Urban, Rural, Regional, and Transportation Analysis; Housing; Infrastructure
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes
    • N97 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Africa; Oceania

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