Those familiar with my work know the importance I place on sea ports and navigable rivers in the formation of stable, successful nation-states. The broad swathes of desert from Morocco to Central Asia found a workaround: camels. Able to carry heavy loads on difficult terrain over 25 miles a day, the camel fueled long-distance trade from the Mediterranean to China in the era before deepwater navigation. Camels carried salt and gold, silks and spices, ivory, carpets, and more (with the two-humped Bactrian camels taking over for their Arabian dromedary cousins in colder and more mountainous climates in Iran and Central Asia). In areas where roads are too costly or difficult to build, camels still fill a critical, if albeit a slower and more spit-filled, transportation need. The ability to carry heavy loads and go … off-road has seen camels used in moving drugs, guns, and other illicit goods across the vast, lawless territories of North Africa right up to contemporary times, with particularly heavy use today in collapsed Libya in the aftermath of Muammar Gaddafi’s fall.
For more on geopolitics and transport, see Chapter 2 of The Accidental Superpower.