I am writing the first of a series of posts on Agriculture and Politics for the blog Democracy in Africa. I talk about some findings in a recent paper, and how it relates to the general political economy of statistics in poor countries.
Some time ago I spoke with a representative from The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) about statistics in Africa. Here’s the interview.
I am attending the African Studies Association Meetings in Baltimore this weekend. Friday November 22, 5:30-6:00 PM, I am doing a ‘Meet the Author/Booksigning’ event for Poor Numbers in the main exhibitor hall.
I am also co-chairing a panel with Gareth Austin called “Historical Perspectives on States, Markets and Development in Africa: Origins, Trajectories and Legacies”, it takes place in the Chasseur Room on Saturday November 22, 4:45-6:00 PM.
That’s the title of a recent editorial in the Financial Times. The editorial recounts the recent data debates. Most importantly, the FT editorial highlights how important it is to debate data openly and freely and this is in African countries’ interest . Referring to some recent events the FT writes:
International agencies should prioritise help for the region. But Africa also needs to help itself. Too often, the continent’s leaders have punished western scholars for questioning government numbers. Critical voices have even been excluded from regional economic forums by means of informal bans.
I am very pleased, and agree wholeheartedly. Read all about it here.
This blog recounts the steps the debate have taken in the FT. First, Poor Numbers was reviewed in the FT, then AfDB responded to the review, and more recently Javier Blas wrote about the investors need for data.
The coverage of the debate on African statistics continues, most recently in the Globe and Mail. I am also pleased to see that it is not only politics and media that gets stirred by the book. Recently, Poor Numbers, got coverage in Significance, which is the magazine of the Royal Statistical Society. In a recent review, Sandrine Mesplé-Somps, pointed out that I am not a statistician.
That is correct. I am an economic historian, I am therefore very pleased to read what I think is the first historian to review Poor Numbers. Alden Young, is a Princeton PhD and a Mellon postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Young has paid particularly close attention to chapter 2 in Poor Numbers, and generously suggests that
Jerven’s work moves beyond being a merely cautionary tale about the accuracy of our historical data, into a new form of evidence about the nature and structure of the African state in its own right.
Building a history of how economic statistics about Africa are produced and consumed helps Jerven design a new approach to developing a periodization of the African state.
Read all about it here.
Did you know that November 18 was African Statistics Day? Jason Braganza of Development Initiatives with his view of what he thinks is required for meet the objective of “Quality Data to support African Progress.“
In Poor Numbers I suggested that many African economies are not growing as fast as the official statistics will have us think, and that we know too little to judge what is happening actually to living standards and poverty in the aggregate. As John Campbell, of the Council 0n Foreign Relations, reports, the latest Afrobarometer results seem to indicate that there is something wrong with the Africa rising narrative (look here for a recent installment which also shows that Poor Numbers can be taken say that Africa is richer than we think). John Campbell also gave a sober account of the African Statistical debate here.
One interesting thing to ponder is that while Nigeria might get new benchmarks for their GDP estimates and pass South Africa, the World Banks still thinks that poverty might be rising in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, Simon Kuper is reminding us that not only is Africa not a country, it is not a place. Simon Kuper even quoted me in his piece:
Morten Jerven, economist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, told a recent Oxford Analytica conference that instead of asking, “Is Africa rising?” we should be asking things like, “Is Lusaka rising?”
It is a bit of a relief that someone hears that I have been saying that we need to focus on countries and local needs, while I am getting accused left and right of not knowing that Africa is a country. Eh. Not a country.
I was asked by H-net Diplo to review Coyne’s book. Doing Bad by Doing Good is the title. Coyne takes his inspiration from Mandeville and the fable of the bees. If you know the fable you already know how Coyne’s book goes. I was not impressed. Very misleading book I thought. Read all about it here.
There has been talk of a data-revolution. We are not quite sure what it would look like yet. Here are my ‘five fundamental propositions‘ for a data revolution in development.
1. We need to focus on data supply, not only on global data demand.
2. A data revolution has to focus on costs as well as benefits.
3. Many statistics are public goods, and therefore we need to worry about market failures in their provision.
4. Paying for results is not only naïve but dangerous.
5. We need to worry more about local demand and applicability to have a sustained improvement in data for development.
Read the full explanation of the propositions here.
I have given many talks this year, but I am the most proud to have been asked to give the first annual public lecture at the African Studies Center in Leiden. It takes place on 7 November 2013, 18.30 – 20.00
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Full details here.
The African Economic History Network, founded in 2011, just published its 10th Bimonthly Newsletter – summarizing new research and opportunities in African Economic History. The first African Economic History Working paper sets out the aims and objectives of the network, and there are now 10 papers available. The latest paper is co-authored by Ewout Frankema and me, and is called “Writing History Backwards or Sideways: Towards a Consensus on African Population, 1850-present“. It is an attempt of improving the data set on population 1850-present, you can download the data set here.
And here is Johan Fourie on what he calls the The renaissance of African economic history. This are exciting times to work on African economic history, contact the network if you want to become a member.