Users and Producers of African Income: Measuring African Progress

Morten Jerven

African Affairs 110 (439), 169-190, 2011

This article traces how African incomes have been measured through history, and shows that there has been a conflict of aims between producers and users of national income estimates. Politicians and international organizations seek income measures that reflect current political and economic priorities and achievements. Thus the importance given to markets, the state, and peasants in the estimates varies through time and space. Meanwhile statisticians aim to produce a measure that gives the best possible reflection of the economy given the available data and definitions at any time. Scholars prefer a measure that is consistent through time and space so that ‘progress’ can be measured, compared, and analysed, while not being able to reach consensus on how ‘progress’ is best calculated or defined. The result is not an objective measure of progress, but rather an expression of development priorities determined by changes in the political economy. The article provides a much-needed study of the ability of the statistical offices to provide income statistics independently and regularly. These data are of crucial importance as they enter the public domain in policy evaluations, political debates, and progress towards lofty aims such as the Millennium Development Goals.

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