Marcello Schermer recently shared this map of Africa’s wealthiest cities on Twitter. There are notable clusters along the Mediterranean and west African coasts, in the Rift Valley, and in South Africa.
Source: The Visual Capitalist
With the exception of South Africa, this looks quite similar to the extent of precolonial empires across the continent.
Map via Wikipedia. Note that not all of these empires existed at the same time.
There are points of divergence, of course. The South African cities and Nairobi didn’t exist before the colonial era, and it’s arguably just a coincidence that Luanda shows up on both maps, since its contemporary wealth is an accident of proximity to oil fields. But overall it’s a neat visual summary of the literature suggesting that precolonial political centralization in Africa still matters for economic growth today.