ASC Annual Public Lecture by Morten Jerven: Poor Numbers: How we are misled by African development statistics and what to do about it


Video duration: 
42 min.

The ASC is proud to announce that its first Annual Public Lecture is to be given by Morten Jerven, author of Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It.

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 non-governmental 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 and, as a result, scarce resources are being misapplied. Development policy is not delivering the benefits expected. Policymakers' attempts to improve the lot of the citizenry are being frustrated and donors have no accurate sense of the impact of the aid they are supplying. Jerven’s findings from Sub-Saharan Africa have far-reaching implications for aid and development policy. He notes that the current catchphrase in the development community is ‘evidence-based policy’ and scholars are applying increasingly sophisticated econometric methods − but no statistical techniques can be a substitute for partial and unreliable data.

There was some controversy last September, when Morten Jerven’s scheduled speech at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa was cancelled. Some African statisticians strongly disagree with the conclusions in Jerven’s book.

The ASC Annual Public Lectures are aimed at a general audience.

Morten Jerven's book is an acquisition highlight in our Library and can be borrowed at the Library.


Portrait Morten JervenMorten Jerven is an economic historian, with a PhD from the London School of Economics. Since 2009 he has been working at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, where he is currently an assistant professor.

Date, time and location

07 November 2013
18.30 - 20.00
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room 1A20