Ordinarily the trajectory of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) determines its place among the community of nations. Last weekend, Africa’s most populous nation suddenly became its most dominant economy.
However, the miraculous assent of Nigeria over night into the big nations club is not rocket science. Uri Friedman in this post in the Atlantic explains this rational miracle:
It was, in fact, a miracle borne of statistics: It had been 24 years since Nigerian authorities last updated their approach to calculating gross domestic product (GDP), a process known as “rebasing” that wealthy countries typically carry out every five years. When the Nigerian government finally did it this week, the country’s GDP—the market value of all finished goods and services produced in a country—soared to $510 billion.
In these past 24 years, Nigeria’s GDP did not factor in revenue from film and telecommunications. Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry is the world’s second, in terms of annual film productions, beating Hollywood and standing behind the India film industry.
Nonetheless this might mean that some African countries are not as poor as the stereotype goes. Freidman asserts that:
Cases like Nigeria’s indicate that “Africa as a whole probably is not as poor as we’ve long thought,” the economist Diane Coyle writes in her great (and well-timed) new book, GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. “In many African, Asian, and Latin American economies, the GDP calculations take no account of phenomena such as globalization, or the mobile phone revolution in the developing world…. There are fundamental weaknesses with the collection of basic statistics such as what businesses there are, what they are selling, or what goods and services households spend their incomes on. The surveys needed to collect this information are carried out only infrequently…. [O]ne estimate suggests that for twenty years sub-Saharan African economies have been growing three times faster than suggested by the ‘official’ data.”
Nigeria might as well be Africa’s hidden tiger, no doubt saturated with doom day stories, but with an inherent capacity of steel.