Path dependency in Africa’s wealthy cities

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.

Map of Africa showing the continent's wealthiest cities. The leaders are Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Lagos.

Source: The Visual Capitalist

With the exception of South Africa, this looks quite similar to the extent of precolonial empires across the continent.

Map showing groupings of precolonial African empires, including a very large cluster in west Africa, a smaller cluster in Ethiopia, and some scattered states around central Africa

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.

One thought on “Path dependency in Africa’s wealthy cities

  1. It’s interesting. I wonder though if those same cities also experience a great disparity from the wealthiest to the poorest, and what are the relative numbers of those living in poverty. It’s been 12 years since I visited Accra, I imagine it’s a much changed city.

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