Do politicians and presidents build roads to allow their citizens to get around, or is it primarily to make themselves richer?
Read “Priority roads: The political economy of Africa’s interior-to-coast roads” by Roberto Bonfatti, Yuan Gu and Steven Poelhekke here.
Do politicians and presidents build roads to allow their citizens to get around, or is it primarily to make themselves richer? Steven Poelhekke discusses his research with Roberto Bonfatti and Yuan Gu looking at paved road networks in West Africa since 1965. The first road networks in the region were built by colonisers not for the people who lived there, but to allow the export of natural resources. This resulted in networks focused on connecting the interior to the coast, with few roads connecting countries to each other. The authors find that this pattern has been reinforced since the end of the colonial period. They also find that autocracies are more likely to connect natural deposits to ports than democracies are, which fits with the assumption that democracies are more likely to take into account the needs of their citizens, while autocracies worry more about staying in power and enriching themselves, most likely through the export of natural resources. Moreover, leaders tend to connect deposits that are located in their own ethnic homeland first, suggesting ethnic favouritism. More recently, the rise of Chinese funding of infrastructure projects in the region has further reinforced the interior-to-coast focus, particularly in countries with less democratic governments. Democratisation in the region has the potential to change West Africa’s road networks, creating more domestic and regional connections, lowering trade costs and benefitting the wider, non-resource economy.
Editors' note: This interview first appeared on VoxEU.