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

    US Watching as North Korea Holds Biggest Political Meeting in 36 Years

    Workers' Party Congress set for Friday; Washington anticipating possibility of another missile launch or nuclear test as top officials gather

    Video Pop Icon Prince Quietly Helped Afghan Orphans for Years

    He sent thousands of dollars to help an aid group rebuild a training center for orphan boy and girl scouts in Kabul, but kept his involvement secret

    Britain’s Muslims See London Mayor Race as Victory

    Mere running of 45-year-old former government minister and son of Pakistani immigrants Sadiq Khan seen by many as turning point

    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.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora