Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Recap: Roadway Extortion Markets in West Africa: Analytical and Data Challenges 1988-2022

Organized Symposium July 24, AAEA 2023 Annual Meeting, Washington, DC

The symposium discussed successes, challenges and research on data systems, analytical methods and policy priorities for micro-data on financial payments and time delays at over 1000 checkpoints along major West African road corridors. This illicit market is a symptom and driver of fragility in West Africa and at the operational interface of the 2019 African Continental Free Trade Area and 2022 ten-year U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability.

Glenn Rogers reviewed data sources and analytical uses by USAID in the 1980s – 1990s, African organizations since 2000, and recent private commercial data. These include supply, demand, and market outcomes in commodity value chains, illicit payment markets, and markets for data.

Ziad Hamoui emphasized that data collection, interviews, and observational factfinding missions provide critical evidence for advocacy dialogue on extortion and illicit fees. Successful resolution requires more engagement by the currently fragmented private sector for building local ownership, local buy-in, and alignment on actionable priorities.

Jeff Cochran’s non-African donor perspective made three points. First, a need to understand payments and delay costs as part of overall transport costs.  Second, grand and petty corruption dimensions of the challenge. Third, risks and mixed success with drivers and trucking unions collecting data in confrontation with the agents who create the delays to increase payments.

Jeremy Foltz summarized analytical methods for data use and costs of lost trade. He called for definition of better theoretical models, testing these models with more cross-corridor and time series studies to build the evidence base, and better learning from the growing body of studies around events that shift payment and delay outcomes.

The audience provided examples of shifts in trade patterns due to checkpoint costs, related violence, grand vs petty corruption, data collection experimentation, and the notorious short life of past successes in temporarily reducing this problem in Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, and Togo.  Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu targeted reduction of road “tolling” costs on July 13, 2023 to improve food security through increasing demand for local agricultural producers.

In summary, audience and panel members agreed on several conclusions. These data keep a light shining on this critical vulnerability for investment in West African trade. There is need to improve connections among academic researchers, private sector voices and analysts, public policy makers and implementation agencies for applying more rigorous evaluation-learning approaches.  Press disseminating information objectively and widely is a historically successful approach. Success requires more evidence-based advocacy, using the data to overcome denial that the problem exists, better joint applications drawing on the public and private data streams on illicit payments, and developing a centralized repository or other archival methods to share data and findings. There is urgent need to improve archiving of historical trip-level data and analyses now being lost among increasingly dispersed actors and due to short-term project funding for data and archive access.

Dr. Glenn Rogers, Symposium Organizer.  Former USAID Representative to the African Union

Research Fellow, in Dr. Jeremy Foltz Laboratory, University of Wisconsin-Madison

For correspondence:


Ziad Hamoui, National President-Ghana, Borderless Alliance,


Dr. Jeff Cochrane, Former USAID regional economist for West Africa

Associate, Department of Government and Politics, University of Maryland-College Park


Dr. Jeremy Foltz, Professor of Ag. & Applied Economics, University of Wisconsin – Madison

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