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Sadly, that picture looks a lot like what the US-Canada border has come to look like at many crossings. Good post.

One might think that some international aid/development agency might see this as a priority. But I guess it's not interesting enought to make the cut.

Donald - actually the African Development Bank has made the development of one-stop border crossings a priority, so it's definitely on the radar screen. It's not rocket science to figure that the 16 land-locked African countries are unlikely to prosper economically if they're not able to get goods to and from ports.

But smooth border crossings require lots of different types of infrastructure - there's the physical infrastructure of roads and bridges and weigh stations and queues. There's the technological infrastructure - at a lot of these border posts, everything is written down by hand, and then keyed in manually - it's really strange to cross a border and have someone pull out a book and write your details down on it. Then there's the political infrastructure - good governance, clear and transparent rules and regulations, absence of graft. In some sense, if someone could figure out how to fix the border crossings, they'd have figured out how to fix so much of what hampers economic development.

RPLong - thank you. The interesting question is whether similar forces prevent better border crossings here, too. I'm thinking of, for example, the way that the owner of the Ambassador Bridge campaigned and lobbied against the building of a new and better bridge connecting Windsor and Detroit - again someone attempting to hold up traffic in order to protect his rents. The Canada/US border is also going more towards a front-of-the-line pass model, which would be expected to reduce the pressure for shorter crossing times. If those with power and influence can bypass the queue, they won't spend time and effort lobbying for shorter line-ups.

Nice post, Frances; should be a way to circulate it to all instructors of intro econ, and/or a first course in international trade. I'll pass it on here.

Linda, thanks.

The post is fine. But when I read the headline I could not help myself from re-writing it as follows:

Much of central and eastern Africa is mired in a neo-Malthusian regional crisis: here is but one manifestation.

And the sub-title: More western aid required to support neo-Malthusian outcomes.

There was a similar article in the Economist a few years ago (god, was it 2002?: http://www.economist.com/node/1487583) on the travails of transporting a truck full of beer (Guinness, of all things) into the interior of the Cameroon. What should have been a day's drive became a multi-day epic owing to a combination of corrupt and officious police officers, lousy roads, bad weather, and lazy officials. Owing to the Economists inimitable style, it's an entertaining read, but a damned depressing one.

westslope - I hope that the post was clear: donor-built bridges can help, but are not enough. Borders are political creations - they're one of the key manifestations of the power and operation of the state. If the state is failing, border crossings are unlikely to work well - no matter how much donor cash is thrown at them. I think people have a better understanding of this now than they once did.

B.t.w., it's not western aid these days. China is playing an increasingly important role in African econ development - something that's definitely worth studying. Chinese organizations are among those financing the Kazungula Bridge.

Bob, thanks for the link. Yup - "the true ghastliness of third-world infrastructure". Though attempts to improve the infrastructure are often remarkably useless. E.g. the main road in Livingstone was just paved two or three years ago. Unfortunately the contractors - either to cut corners, or out of ignorance - used a form of tarmac that couldn't cope with heat. Consequently this nearly-new road has deep ruts in it already, and is in need of repair.

Frances: Yes, the Chinese to their credit want to trade with Africans. Not just treat them like cute puppy dogs.

I could be out of touch so if you have data that suggests western food aid has declined sharply over the years, please share. If you have data that shows that Canadian tariff barriers to the poorest Black African countries have come down over the past while, please share.

In the background, massive subsidies for American and European food continue to distort world food markets.

Another classic example of cross-border bottlenecks in Africa is Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Brazzaville (Republic of Congo).
They face each other across the Congo River but the one ferry across is hardly sufficient for the two very large cities.

(It's only in the past year that Google Maps included the ferry in their routing. Before, a trip plan from one city to the other looks something like this)

Kelvin - fascinating example. How long are the ferry line-ups?

Kelvin: not that any of these roads is physically passable nor exempt of pirates, rebels and even worse policemen and soldiers.
One of my exes was there for the UN. She found it far worse than her preceding posting in Ivory Coast during the 2004-2006 civil war. She is now in Mali and find it refreshingly quiet....

Your link on the bridge construction notes that ferry availability due to poor maintenance averages 50% and that crossing time doubles during the rainy season! However, it also includes the info that new ferries aren't very expensive in comparison to new bridges. It calculates that there is significant economic value and a high rate of return available for bridge construction as evaluated over purchase of 2 new ferries, but does not evaluate an increased number of ferries or a higher-capacity ferry.

Benamery21 - interesting point. There are quite a few differences between an improved ferry and a bridge. I think the bridge would include new one-stop-border-crossings (something the African Development bank seems very keen on). Perhaps one could make the case that the decision to go with a bridge rather than a ferry is partly about changing bureaucratic structures, as well as physical ones? A bridge also might be a bit harder for small traders to cross than a ferry. It seems that the ferry is quite a porous border - while trucks wait for days, small traders can hop on more easily. That might change with a bridge. Certainly for foot passengers an improved ferry would be superior to a bridge.

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