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The European Union is famous. But there's also an African Union and the Union of South American Nations, or USAN. Neither is nearly as well developed as the EU and USAN in particular is very new, but out of all the other intergovernmental bodies and agreements out there, these seem closest to the EU in intent. Lots of people are skeptical of a world government, others hope for it out of the UN; me, I'd put my money on this sort of gradual and voluntary union. Imagine a world where all three unions are up and running, and where the economic gap has shrunk massively. Might not the same logic that formed the unions suggest that they in turn break down the barriers between them?

(And of course there's environmental issues, and the possibility of using sanctions on non-compliant countries.)

Part of me thinks that the AU is getting well ahead of itself; talk of a continent-wide parliament seems odd when most of the component countries can't run themselves well. But the AU has done some good with peacekeeper deployments and sanctioning a few cases of undemocratic or unconstitutional malfeasance, and I wonder if one bad government might not be better than a dozen. On the one hand, fewer places to run; on the other, fewer trade barriers and bigger risk pools and hopefully less war. And corruption can be either better or worse with scale.

Good Africa news, at least in military professionalism and cooperation.

Speaking of trade barriers, an interesting article on geography and develoment, particularly the costs of landlocked countries. A couple of money quotes:

"simply crossing the U.S.-Canadian border is equivalent to adding from 4,000 to 16,000 kilometers worth of transportation costs"

"Shipping a standard container from Baltimore to the Ivory Coast costs about $3,000, while sending that same container to the landlocked Central African Republic costs $13,000."

The cheapest trade is still maritime, so lacking coast means lack of direct access to cheap trade and having to go through neighbors who might tax or block you. Next cheapest trade is rail, but of course that's somewhat expensive infrastructure, problematic for a poor country to build or run, and you've still got the neighbors problem. The real fun poverty trap is a combination: landlocked, far from the cost with poor rail or roads, beset by tropical diseases, and being of small size and thus of limited risk sharing, so a natural disaster devastates the whole country. (Imagine if Colorado or Florida were independent countries, facing the fires and hurricanes that they do without federal aid.) Africa has 15 landlocked countries, mostly well away from coasts, with poor infrastructure and good diseases.

I feel sorry for Ethiopia, which became landlocked when Eritrea split away. The barrier's very thin for a good stretch, but presumably the countries aren't friendly.

Plus of course poverty means not being a market for research into your problems, disease or otherwise.

The Bottom Billion reportedly notes another problem: a small country with bad government and cheap labor isn't attractive to investors despite the cheap labor, because there's limited return on investing in figuring out how to deal with the bad government. Far better to go for China or India, where there's the promise of big labor pools and and maybe markets.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/326998.html#comments


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 5th, 2012 01:21 am (UTC)
Ethiopia has no access to the ports of Eritrea, and instead apparently has been making use of Djibouti.
Jul. 5th, 2012 10:07 am (UTC)
Uganda and Rwanda are at present two of the most powerful countries in Africa, projecting military and economic power well beyond their own borders, so being landlocked is not always and inevitably bad news. It is more often than not, though.

Ethiopia had a war with Eritrea and constant border harassment. Eritrea is at present probably the worst tyranny in Africa, alas, led by a classic paranoiac called Isaias Afewerki and friendly with every terrorist and murderer in the Muslim world (though the country is majority Christian). Ethiopia has a not-nice government itself, but compared with Eritrea, it's paradise. It's also doing a bit of modest growing - the most recent famine has been met mostly from resources from the country itself. It also has, for practical purposes, a sea outlet: the small country of Djibouti is at one end of a historic railway line whose other end is at Addis Abeba. And when they finally settle the hash of the Somali Islamists (which is going to happen), she will also have a major say in Somalia.
Jul. 5th, 2012 03:51 pm (UTC)
Which is weird, given how small Uganda and especially Rwanda are... and they're not particularly rich or populous. Higher GDPs than their neighbors to the north and west, though. (Well, Rwanda's half that of the DRC, but enough to mess around. And 4x the per capita income, so more disposable wealth I guess.)

But then CAR and Burundi are also landlocked, and DRC isn't technically, but is big and the eastern part is probably low transit...

Yeah, Reporters Without Borders ranked Eritrea below North Korea in press freedom, which I don't even. Tied, I could see. Below?

Jul. 5th, 2012 04:13 pm (UTC)
Below. Eritrea is less concerned about what the rest of the world thinks of it; and, God forgive us, has a careless and inattentive former colonial power.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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