Trade Briefs

Africa’s economic performance in perspective

Africa’s economic performance in perspective

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16 Feb 2017

Author(s): Ron Sandrey

The objective for this paper is to assess Africa’s economic profile over the last fifty or so years and try to place this performance in perspective. We use a variety of indicators, most of which have been selected from the World Bank Development Indicators. We note at the outset that where data has a missing year that is crucial for our analysis we have used the adjacent year as a proxy. Thus, there is a slight degree of subjectivity in the results. We also note that there are several countries for which there is just not enough data to use even by introducing proxies. Further, we note that there are instances in the data that do not seem to be realistic. These could either be a rebalancing (as was the case for Nigeria in 2004 when the economy “grew” by 33,7%), or mistakes in the data as for Equatorial Guinea, where growth rates of 150% were reported by the World Bank for 1977 following an increase of 66,6% the previous year. We have gone with the data as reported by the World Bank as the definite source.

In summary, we find that based upon the standard Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data many, but not all, African countries have performed reasonably well over an extended period. The problem starts when the GDP analysis turns into looking at this GDP expressed in real (constant dollar) terms on a per capita basis. Here Africa has done poorly, and accounting for much of the difference between standard GDP and GDP per capita in constant dollars is the dramatic population growths in most (but again not all) African countries.


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