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Research Assistant Opportunity

GIS in Economic Development [Research Assistant]

Estimating the Effects of Road Investments on Economic Development in Sub-Saharan Africa

Professor Remi Jedwab

The Project: In this project, my co-author (Adam Storeygard, from Tufts and LSE) and I plan to estimate the economic effects of road investments on economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Developing countries have massively invested in railroads and roads over the past century, and transportation remains the single largest item in the investment budget of these countries and most development aid agencies. For example, the World Bank spends 20% of its investment budget on roads. Then, thanks to recent commodity booms, Africa is massively re-investing in railroads and roads. Several countries have initiated various giant infrastructure projects, such as the Tanzania-Gabon railway ($33 billion), the Mombasa-Kampala-Kigali railway ($14 billion), the Trans-Kalahari railway ($9 billion), the Abidjan-Lagos motorway ($8 billion) and the Ethio-Djibouti railway ($ 3billion) among others.

Transportation infrastructure investments are considered key to promoting economic growth. But should we not expect the economic returns to transportation investments to depend on the context in which they take place? Are there contexts where these investments may have no effects? Despite an extensive public policy literature on the topic, we still lack strong quantitative academic evidence on the “true” economic effects of such investments.

In this paper, we will study the effects of localized road investments on local economic growth using econometric regressions for 39 Sub-Saharan African countries from 1960 to 2010. For example, if a bituminized road is built in a poor remote region, do we observe positive economic effects of that road a few years later?

To conduct our analysis, we must be able to observe the road investments that took place in the 39 African countries over time. One solution is to georeference information on road infrastructure, coded by quality or status, from Michelin maps covering nearly all of Sub-Saharan Africa, approximately every two years, between 1960, when there were very few bituminized roads in the region, and 2010. Michelin is a tire manufacturer that is also notable for its roadmaps that have been published on a regular for most countries in the world. Thanks to the maps, we will be able to track the evolution of road networks, and thus road investments in Africa over time.

Research Assistant Tasks: The research assistant would help us georeference the roadmaps. Georeferencing a map means that the student will have to use a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to recreate the roadmaps in a GIS file that we will then be able to use for our research. A GIS file is like an excel sheet, but “in space”. GIS are used to produce simple maps that can be used for various purposes.

It is very easy to use the GIS software, and I would train the student myself. Knowing how to use GIS is a very useful skill if you plan to work for an international organization (IO), as IOs often need maps for their reports.


Here is an example of what can be done for the U.S.:

Time Commitment: 7-9 hours per week

Credit Hour Option: 3

Application Instructions: Send me your CV, and tell me how many hours you can work every week (and for how many weeks). I said 7-9 hours per week, but I could be flexible if you would need fewer credits for your work.

Contact Email: jedwab@gwu.edu