News / Africa

    Questions Abound Over Growth Statistics in Africa

    Peter Heinlein
    Economic statistics regularly show steady progress in Africa's development, even as  much of the continent remains mired in poverty. One scholar says the truth often is obscured by a raft of misleading statistics.

    Ethiopia announced last week that its economy had grown at a rate of more than 10 percent over the past two years. Official statistics indicate the Horn of Africa country has maintained double-digit growth for nearly a decade.

    Ethiopia is not alone among sub-Saharan African nations announcing strong growth figures. Figures supplied by the International Monetary Fund and The Economist magazine indicate Africa has surpassed Asia as the fastest growing continent. They predict that seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies over the next five years will be in Africa. Ethiopia leads the way, followed by Mozambique, Tanzania, Congo, Ghana, Zambia and Nigeria.

    Yet many of these same countries rank among the world’s poorest.

    Growth figures are often used to justify calls for bigger development budgets as a way to shrink the gap between rich and poor. Economic historian Morten Jerven of Simon Fraser University in Canada, however, said the data can be deceiving. Jerven told a recent development conference at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington that his research shows the numbers often appear to be manipulated, or even made up by governments to produce desired outcomes.

    Jerven said statistical offices are under pressure to tell their bosses, and more importantly, potential aid donors, that development programs are working.

    “There is one big problem, that is, there is always political pressure. In any statistical office in any country in the world, they would know more or less what the number the executive politicians would like to have… if you report a high number you’ll get more support, and if you report a low number you’ll get less support, then clearly one needs to rethink the independence of these data collection procedures,” he said.

    Jerven said the inaccuracies are compounded by big international development agencies that compile the data and pass it on, thereby adding their credibility to statistics that often are misleading.
     
    “I point the big finger of blame at the World Bank data group in this respect. They are one of the main agencies that collect data from national statistical offices and compile them in a big database where they are disseminated. We like to download these statistics from the World Bank and others, and we like to think they mean something. Most of the time they are just guessing, and we are often fooled when we do this,” said Jerven.

    The Canadian researcher said that in some cases, statistics that are
    "massaged" for political reasons can lead to absurd conclusions.

    “In Malawi, where every year since they introduced a fertilizer subsidy, Malawi could report even higher maize production, to the extent that it became ridiculous. It got to be that either Malawians were putting on a huge amount of weight [to consume the amount of maize produced] or the numbers were simply not true,” he said.

    Jerven’s study covered Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Botswana. Twenty other countries participated through an email survey.

    The full story is available in Jerven’s book, titled Poor Numbers: How We are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do About It?

    You May Like

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Morten Jerven
    May 07, 2013 3:26 PM
    Please enlighten us with some statistics on Zimbabwe's economy I dont think the "big finger of blame" can be pointed entirely at the World Bank data group, perhaps your visit there is long overdue.?

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora