Why Africa’s Geography Is a Barrier to Growth
Browsing through history, we can identify several examples of states overcoming the hurdles of geography to achieve great feats. Though the plague of an inhospitable geography is not an insurmountable obstacle to development, it remains crucial to understanding disparities in income across countries. However, some mainstream economists place a premium on institutional development as a panacea for economic growth. Institutions are indeed important, but the legacy of geography still lingers.
Compared to the rest of the world, economic growth in Africa has been quite sluggish. A stunning fact is that during 1965–90, GDP (gross domestic product) per capita growth in Africa averaged 0.8 percent per year. Yet growth in the seven fastest-growing developing countries outside the region averaged 5.8 percent, and growth in the rest of the developing world recorded an average growth of 1.8 percent. Economic decline was so dramatic that the average 1972 GDP level was not attained again until 2004.
Economists admit that exploring Africa’s lackluster performance requires a multidimensional approach. However, many argue that geography is a major contributor to Africa’s anemic performance. According to a landmark study by Sachs and Warner (1997), countries in tropical regions grow more slowly than countries in temperate environments, and unfortunately, a sizeable proportion of the African population is in tropical climates.
Relative to temperate zones, tropical countries encounter a litany of parasitic diseases that are less pervasive in the former. Furthermore, as Austin (2008) reports, such places are also characterized by fragile soils. When combined, these features greatly inhibit agriculture productivity in tropical climates
Article from Mises Wire