Africa’s interior-to-coast roads are well placed to export natural resources, but not to support regional trade. Are they the best response to geography and comparative advantage, or the result of political distortions? To answer this question, we investigate the political determinants of road paving in West Africa in 1965-2014. Controlling for geography and comparative advantage, we find that autocracies more than democracies focused on connecting metal and mineral deposits to ports, resulting in more interior-to-coast networks. This deposit-to-port bias is driven by deposits located on the ruling elite’s ethnic homeland. This suggests that Africa’s interior-to-coast roads were at least in part the result of ethnic favoritism.
This working paper is also available as CEPR Discussion Paper 15354.