Thursday, January 15, 2009

The East Africa miracle

I love maps, so when I saw the World Development Report 2009: Reshaping Economic Geography in the book store (available for free here), I had to get it. My favorite map so far is cell phone coverage in Africa:

It appears that South Africa, Morocco, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi all have near universal coverage today. Besides Sierra Leone, no other country seems to come close to these 5. Of the 5, only Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are land locked, and they are all well connected to what is commonly called East Africa, and all dealing with a very violent recent past.

The problem of being land locked has been on my mind a lot since finishing Paul Collier's new book, The Bottom Billion. I was nervous about reading the book at first since I am familiar with Collier's work and do not like the loose causal arguments he often makes, but the book held together well.

Cell phone coverage obviously does not mean these countries are doing well, but it does suggest they have something that will help them considerably in the future. Is this map evidence that, despite years of conflict in these 3 countries, the quality of neighboring countries really do matter, as Collier suggests? Or is it that each is run by a despotic, but brilliant, leader? Or does a lush, well developed landscape somehow matter?

Oh, and my second favorite map is the linguistic division of Sub-Saharan Africa:

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