from Africa in Transition

Nigeria is Officially “Africa’s Largest Economy”

April 07, 2014

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On April 6, Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics announced that after “rebasing,” Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) almost doubled to U.S. $509.9 billion. That figure is dramatically larger than South Africa’s 2013 GDP of $370.3 billion, and bestows on Nigeria the bragging rights of being the largest economy in Africa.

However, as Premium Times notes, South Africa’s GDP numbers are three times larger than Nigeria’s on a per capita basis. South Africa has a diverse, modern economy, while Nigeria remains heavily dependent on oil, despite a proliferation of cell phones and other telecommunication technologies, and a large and dynamic film industry. Further, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim included Nigeria with India, China, Bangladesh, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the countries with the largest number of people living in “extreme poverty,” defined as less than $1.25 per day. He went on to say that if you add to those five countries Indonesia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Kenya, those ten countries together account for 80 percent of the world’s total “extreme poor.”

According to the Premium Times, many economists believe that 70 percent of Nigeria’s population lives in “extreme poverty.” “Rebasing” does nothing to change this reality.

In light of work by Morten Jerven and others on the limitations of African statistics, it is uncertain whether Nigeria’s new GDP statistics describe economic reality.

This announcement is a matter of politics, not economics.  The claim of being Africa’s largest economy could bolster Nigeria’s chances of joining the G-20; at present, South Africa is the only African country in the club. But, if Nigeria joins, does South Africa leave?  It might also strengthen Nigeria’s claim to a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, if and when Security Council enlargement becomes anything more than a hypothetical question. And what about the BRICS (the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)?  South Africa’s membership was predicated on being Africa’s “largest economy.” Will Nigeria displace South Africa, or join South Africa?

It has been a rough past few weeks for Nigeria, with Boko Haram attacks at Giwa Barracks (Maiduguri) and within the headquarters of the State Security Service in Abuja. Violence involving “Fulani herdsmen” continues, and politics looking toward the scheduled 2015 elections are in turmoil. It is widely expected that President Goodluck Jonathan will seek re-election, though he has still made no announcement of his intentions. Presuming he does, he and his Peoples’ Democratic Party will almost certainly claim credit for Nigeria’s economic growth—if not for the remaining poverty of most of its citizens.

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