Counting the Bottom Billion

Measuring the Wealth and Progress of African Economies

Morten Jerven

Published: December 2011

What do the statistics from the international databases tell us about income and growth in Sub-Saharan Africa? Less than we would like to think. The article takes a starting point in per capita GDP estimates in Africa. Recently, Ghana announced a revision of its GDP statistics, increasing its national income estimates by over 60%. This article shows that similar revisions are to be expected in other countries. Many statistical offices are currently using outdated data and methods. It is argued that with the current uneven application of methods and poor availability of data, any ranking of African economies according to GDP levels is misleading. It is argued that the World Bank, prominent among data disseminators, is currently not providing the necessary information to complement its datasets, and that this shortcoming misleads data users.

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More Papers From This Author in World Economics:

Agricultural Statistics
Author: Morten Jerven

In developing economies the data on agricultural production are weak. Because these data are assembled using competing methods and assumptions, the final series are subject to political pressure, particularly when the government is subsidizing agricultural inputs. This paper draws on debates on the effect of crop data subsidies in Malawi. The recent agricultural census (2006/2007) indicates a maize output of 2.1 million tonnes, compared to the previously widely circulated figures of 3.4 million tonnes. The paper suggests that ‘data’ are themselves a product of agricultural policies.

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