The Dark Continent

Sitting in a dank room lit only by a single candle a few nights ago, an acquaintance of mine explained a thought of his about Africa. As we sipped our homemade banana beer (which I believe was responsible for an unpleasant trip to the toilet a few hours later), he talked of how both literal and metaphorical darkness is such a salient element of the Africa experience. In a continent of little electricity and black skin, literal darkness subsumes detail and nuance. Faces become floating eyes and teeth, potholes and washouts in dirt roads become shadowy rivulets of an unknown depth. Metaphorical darkness manifests itself in the disconnectedness caused by lack of trade, routes, education. Candles of knowledge are rare; rarely are they lit; rarer still can they be used to light other candles.

Images make the point best. Bill Easterly just posted three good ones on his blog (click on the images for larger sizes and/or the source):

The first is of seafaring routes from a World Bank report:

The second is a map of IP addresses and thus internet connectivity:

The third is of airline routes:

The last two are ones I've found in the past. Here's country size based on GDP:

And a more famous one again showing Africa's disappearance:

Some economists are now using light data as a proxy for economic growth.

Darkness can be illuminating.