The debate – why economists get Africa (really) wrong


In a debate on radical political economy, economics and economists working on Africa, Franklin Obeng-Odoom and Morten Jerven look at the use of statistics, mainstream economics, power, imperialism, patriarchy, and structural inequality. Both think that mainstream economists get much wrong about Africa, but they differ considerably in their diagnosis of the problem and the way forward.

On 3 December 2021, the University of Bayreuth hosted an Event Called “Africa: Why Economists get it (Really) Wrong”. This was our last instalment of a series of interventions organized by Stefan Ouma and Christine Vogt-William to make visible other ways of thinking about the economy beyond Western economic orthodoxies, centring radical African and African Diaspora scholars’ perspective. The event was staged as a debate between the Ghanaian political economist Franklin Obeng-Odoom,  and Morten Jerven. It was moderated by Abena D. Oduro and Stefan Ouma.

The event

Why did we choose this title for our event? Obviously, it is a reference to the title of Morten Jerven’s widely read 2015 book, Africa: Why Economists Get it Wrong. On the other hand, Franklin Obeng-Odoom devotes substantial attention in Property, Institutions and Social Stratification in Africa (2020) to Jerven’s book, as well as his previous book Poor Numbers (Jerven 2013). Few other authors get so much space in Obeng-Odoom’s book. On the one hand, Obeng-Odoom shows a clear appreciation of Jerven’s work for scrutinizing mainstream economic models and the use of statistics when it comes to explain growth patterns of African economies in historical and comparative perspective, but he also offers a strong critique of it.

As organizers, we think a fresh take on the original title of Jerven’s 2015 book helps us open up a few things to debate: What is the purpose of the category of “Africa” in our study of African economies? Is it a vehicle for Pan-Africanism and Black Empowerment? Is it a geographical space in which we do research? Is it a statistical unit? What do we understand by economics? Do “All economists” really get “Africa Wrong”?

Review of African Political Economy for more

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