Ruggedness: The Blessing of Bad Geography in Africa

36 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2009 Last revised: 7 Apr 2022

See all articles by Nathan Nunn

Nathan Nunn

Harvard University - Department of Economics

Diego Puga

IMDEA Social Sciences; University of Toronto - Department of Economics; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Date Written: April 2009

Abstract

There is controversy about whether geography matters mainly because of its contemporaneous impact on economic outcomes or because of its interaction with historical events. Looking at terrain ruggedness, we are able to estimate the importance of these two channels. Because rugged terrain hinders trade and most productive activities, it has a negative direct effect on income. However, in Africa rugged terrain afforded protection to those being raided during the slave trades. Since the slave trades retarded subsequent economic development, in Africa ruggedness has also had a historical indirect positive effect on income. Studying all countries worldwide, we find that both effects are significant statistically and that for Africa the indirect positive effect dominates the direct negative effect. Looking within Africa, we also provide evidence that the indirect effect operates through the slave trades.

Suggested Citation

Nunn, Nathan and Puga, Diego, Ruggedness: The Blessing of Bad Geography in Africa (April 2009). NBER Working Paper No. w14918, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1394825

Nathan Nunn

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

Littauer Center
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Diego Puga (Contact Author)

IMDEA Social Sciences ( email )

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Madrid, 28001
Spain

University of Toronto - Department of Economics ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://dpuga.economics.utoronto.ca/

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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