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About Morten Jerven
Morten Jerven teaches at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. He is the author of Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It.
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One of the most urgent challenges in African economic development is to devise a strategy for improving statistical capacity. Reliable statistics, including estimates of economic growth rates and per-capita income, are basic to the operation of governments in developing countries and vital to nongovernmental organizations and other entities that provide financial aid to them. Rich countries and international financial institutions such as the World Bank allocate their development resources on the basis of such data. The paucity of accurate statistics is not merely a technical problem; it has a massive impact on the welfare of citizens in developing countries.
Where do these statistics originate? How accurate are they? Poor Numbers is the first analysis of the production and use of African economic development statistics. Morten Jerven's research shows how the statistical capacities of sub-Saharan African economies have fallen into disarray. The numbers substantially misstate the actual state of affairs. As a result, scarce resources are misapplied. Development policy does not deliver the benefits expected. Policymakers' attempts to improve the lot of the citizenry are frustrated. Donors have no accurate sense of the impact of the aid they supply. Jerven's findings from sub-Saharan Africa have far-reaching implications for aid and development policy. As Jerven notes, the current catchphrase in the development community is "evidence-based policy," and scholars are applying increasingly sophisticated econometric methods-but no statistical techniques can substitute for partial and unreliable data.
What do we know about economic development in Africa? The answer is that we know much less than we would like to think. This collection assesses the knowledge problem present in statistics on poverty, agriculture, labour, education, health, and economic growth. While diverse in origin, the contributors to this book are unified in two conclusions: the quality and quantity of data needs to be improved; and this is a concern not just for statisticians. Weaknesses in statistical methodology and practice can misinform policy makers, international agencies, donors, the private sector, and the citizens of African countries themselves. This is also a problem for academics from various disciplines, from history and economics to social epidemiology and education policy. Not only does academic work on Africa regularly use flawed data, but many problems encountered in surveys challenge common academic abstractions. By exploring these flaws, this book will provide a guide for scholars, policy makers, and all those using and commissioning surveys in Africa. This book was originally published as a special issue of The Journal of Development Studies.
The volume 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 there has been no failure of economic growth. 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
incomplete. In the 1980s many economic activities were increasingly missed in the official records thus the decline in the 1980s 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 overstated, and that the importance of the external economic conditions have been understated in the prevailing explanation of African economic performance.