Measuring African Development: Past and Present

Will be published as a book by Routledge. Estimated publication date January 8th 2015. My fourth book will be published by Zed in May 2015. Title: Africa: Why Economists Get it Wrong.

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The renaissance of African economic history

That is the promising title of the introduction to a special issue by Gareth Austin and Steven Broadberry soon to be published by Economic History Review.  The special issue will be launched at the LSE  25-26 October at the African Economic History Workshop. The program (put together by Leigh Gardner) looks very promising. For those who are interested in joining future events and otherwise following and contributing to the African Economic History Network should become members. In the special issue I got two articles. One with Ewout Frankema, with the title: Writing history backwards or sideways: towards a consensus on African population, 1850–2010. The second one  is perhaps even more ambitious and is called: A West African experiment: constructing a GDP series for colonial Ghana, 1891–1950.

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Overcoming Obstacles to Doing Business in Sub-Saharan Africa

I am invited to offer my comments by Aubrey Hubry who argues:

that inadequate infrastructure, lack of market data, and poor policy implementation impede investment in Africa, despite growing opportunities to do so profitably

The event takes place at the Atlantic council (details here) in the context of the US-Africa Leaders Summit. My book, Poor Numbers, was not really written with the concern of how the lack of data affects business decisions, but I enjoy the widening of the conversation of how measurement matters. I am preparing my notes for the discussion.

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Towards a History of Economic Growth in Africa

From the OUP blog, the summary of the key findings of my latest book:

The book offers a reconsideration of economic growth in Africa in three respects. First, it shows that the focus has been on average economic growth and that economic growth has not failed. In particular, the gains made in the 1960s and 1970s have been neglected. Second, it emphasizes that for many countries the decline in economic growth in the 1980s was overstated, as was the improvement in economic growth in the 1990s. The coverage of economic activities in GDP measures is therefore inaccurate. In the 1980s, many economic activities were increasingly missed in the official records thus the decline was overestimated (resulting from declining coverage), and the increase in the 1990s was overestimated (resulting from increasing coverage). The third important reconsideration is that there is no clear association between economic growth and orthodox economic policies. This is counter to the mainstream interpretation, and suggests that the importance of sound economic policies has been exaggerated, and that the importance of the external economic conditions have been devalued in the prevailing explanation of African economic performance.

The OUP also offer the first chapter for free.

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Without a statistical revolution, Africa’s renaissance is built on shaky ground

That is the title of a summary of the debates on the current African growth data written up by Ian Fraser. He is a financial journalist and the author of Shredded: Inside RBS: The Bank that Broke Britain- read the post in QFinance here.

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Missing and old MDG data

There is some good news, and there is some bad news. The bad news is that the MDG report is based on old and missing data. The good news is that Keiko Osaki-Tomita, chief of the demographic and social statistics branch of the UN’s Statistics Division, finds that frustrating. I hope the frustration of measuring progress without data will be felt a bit more keenly and taken more seriously in the next round. I just finished a background paper for the Copenhagen Consensus for their project on the Post 2015 MDGs.

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Why measurement matters?

Oxford University Press posted a blog about my latest book – Economic Growth and Measurement Reconsidered in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia, 1965-1995 – read the post here.

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What if everything we know about poor countries’ economies is totally wrong?

The results of a phone interview with at VOX. Read the full interview here.

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Whose numbers?

That’s the title of an article written by Adewale Maja-Pearce. He takes stock of the debate on Poor Numbers (between me and some representatives from some statistical offices) – and relates it to the problems of counting people in Nigeria – well worth a read.

Mr Jerven himself got ‘a peek into…the domestic political pressures some serious technocrats have to deal with’ when he was finally permitted to attend the conference and was subjected to ‘a loud rant’ from Busani Ngcaweni, Deputy Director-General in the South African Presidency.


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Five reasons why African growth is slower than the data tell you

One of the things my  book Poor Numbers suggested, was that the rise of Africa might not be as impressive as the data tells you. The African Development Bank responded by saying there was nothing to worry about: the rise of Africa was real and doubters should go and see for themselves. Others have used the evidence gap to argue that Africa is rising even faster than we think. But the reason you want objective aggregates is precisely because you do not want to rely on subjective interpretation of impressionistic pieces of evidence.

Surveys of GDP methods in Africa, before Nigeria’s recent rebasing, showed there were only a handful of countries measuring their GDP against benchmark years that were less than 5 years old, as recommended by international standards. The International Monetary Fund found that 28 countries used benchmark years that were more than 10 years old, and 13 countries used benchmarks more than 20 years old. Some commentators have misunderstood and think that because of such outdated methods, Africa is grower faster than we think. The opposite is more likely to be true.

Here are five reasons why African growth might be slower than what official data tell you written for the Financial Times.

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