Ruggedness: how bad terrain helped parts of Africa

There is controversy about whether geography matters mainly because of
its contemporaneous impact on economic outcomes or because of its
interaction with historical events.  Looking at terrain ruggedness, we
are able to estimate the importance of these two channels.  Because
rugged terrain hinders trade and most productive activities, it has a
negative direct effect on income.  However, in Africa rugged terrain
afforded protection to those being raided during the slave trades.
Since the slave trades retarded subsequent economic development, in
Africa ruggedness also has had a historical indirect positive effect on
income.  Studying all countries worldwide, we find that both effects are
significant statistically and that for Africa the indirect positive
effect dominates the direct negative effect.  Looking within Africa, we
provide evidence that the indirect effect operates through the slave
trades.  We also show that the slave trades, by encouraging population
concentrations in rugged areas, have also amplified the negative direct
impact of rugged terrain in Africa.

That’s a new paper by Nathan Nunn and Diego Puga.  Some say the paper is here, not I.  Others say you can get it here.  I say you can get an html version here.  Here is one quick summary of the argument.  Here are Nunn’s other papers on the slave trade, and how it continues to affect current African development.


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