Coasting along

I’m following Marginal Revolution University’s new online course on Development Economics.

Efficient transportation networks are a well-recognised  factor contributing to enhanced prosperity by facilitating trade. Africa is missing the river networks one finds across Europe, and moreover, their coastline is actually surprisingly small.

Here’s a map of Africa, (credit: Kai Krause) highlighting just how large the continent is by massaging different countries into it….

As you can see, Europe easily fits into it (along with China, India and the US too!)

However, the coastline of Europe alone is 2 to 3 times longer than that of Africa’s (it’s much ‘bendier’ and depending on how you do the fractals you get somewhere between 2x and 3x the African continent).  That’s a lot more access to transportation by boat.

Transportation by road is a lot better in Europe too. Riffing off a conversation with Simon Moore on a trip we made to Tanzania some years ago, there are different models for funding roads and officials.

In Europe we pay a known road tax (and other taxes) once a year, which cover maintenance, construction, police, etc. Whereas in places in Africa the traffic police are not paid [at a market rate] and instead extract bribes from motorists to make up the difference. This is very inefficient. From an Economist article:

The plan was to carry 1,600 crates of Guinness 500km. It should have taken 20 hours, including an overnight rest. It took four days. We were stopped at road-blocks 47 times.

At some road-blocks, the police went through our papers word by word, in the hope of finding an error. Policemen checked to see whether the truck was carrying a fire extinguisher. Similar scrutiny was lavished on tail-lights, axles, wing-mirrors and tyres, all in the name of road safety. The longest delay came in the town of Mbandjok, where the police decided that Martin did not have enough permits, and offered to sell him another for twice the usual price.

A gaggle of policemen joined the argument, which grew heated. The total number of man-hours wasted, (assuming an average of seven policemen involved, plus three people in the truck), was 35—call it one French working week. And all for a requested bribe of 8,000 CFA francs ($12).