Output per Head in Pre-Independence Africa: Quantitative Conjectures Articles uri icon

publication date

  • December 2012

start page

  • 1

end page

  • 36


  • 2


  • 27

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2078-0389

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2078-0397


  • GDP figures for Africa are unreliable. More dependable information can be found in government expenditure and international trade records. These records, though, provide little insight into non-market output. In this paper an attempt is made to draw explicit conjectures on real output per head in pre-independence Africa on the basis of trade data so that conjectures can be established about Africa's long-run growth. Two alternative approaches are considered. One estimates per capita GDP by assuming no increase in output per head outside the tradable sector, for which the purchasing power of per capita exports is accepted as a proxy. Another approach establishes an econometric association between real per capita GDP and the income terms of trade per head for 1950&-1990 and, on the basis of the prediction equation's parameters and the values of the RHS variables, infers real output per head for 1870&-1938. Trends in real output per head are then drawn for Africa (and its main regions). By comparing these trends with those from other developing regions, some conjectures about Africa's relative position over time are put forward. It emerges that economic growth started earlier than usually assumed and there is continuity in growth before and after colonial independence. Sub-Saharan Africa's retardation is a gradual process, as growing and falling behind took place simultaneously. But it is in the period 1975&-1995 when the worst setback in modern Africa's history took place.