Development economics, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada

Fellowship : October 2014 to January 2015

Discipline(s) : Economics, History

Area(s) of expertise : Economic history

Pays : Canada, Norway

Research project: "African states and development: a historical perspective on state legitimacy and development capacity, 1890-2010"

Do African states have the capacity for ‘development’? In the contemporary literature African states are described either as incapable or uninterested in development, but these notions have not been fully historicized. Meanwhile, it is widely acknowledged in the history, economics and politics of development literature that it is history and institutions that matter most for development outcomes. My proposed research will examine when, where and under what conditions states in sub-Saharan Africa were capable of nurturing development and when, where and under what conditions they were not. At present, we have no clear empirical metric to gauge whether African states are more capable, stronger or more legitimate today than they were 20, 50 or 100 years ago.


Morten Jerven has published widely on African economic development, and particularly on patterns of economic growth and development statistics. Jerven is an economic historian, with a PhD from the London School of Economics, and since 2009 he is employed at the School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. His doctoral research on Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia and his work on the post-colonial economic performance of these countries has been published in a range of journal papers. The work is particularly innovative in investigating the construction of African growth data and showing how data quality issues are critical for the evaluation of economic performance. His recent book Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It has reignited debates on measurement in Africa, and has received reviews from the Financial Times and leading journals.

Morten Jerven is currently working on linking studies on post-colonial economic development with the economic history of colonial Africa. The research project is focusing on the African growth data where the two related aims are to assess its quality and to construct a reliable basis to evaluate and interpret long term economic change in African economies.


Major publications

JERVEN, Morten. Poor Numbers: How we are misled by African development statistics and what to do about it. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013. [online, visited 07/05/2014]


JERVEN, Morten. Economic Growth and Measurement Reconsidered in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia, 1965-1995, Oxford University Press, 2014. [online, visited 07/05/2014]


JERVEN, Morten. African Growth Recurring: An Economic History Perspective on African Growth Episodes, 1690-2010. Economic History of Developing Regions, 25:2, p. 127-154, 2010. [online, visited 07/05/2014]


JERVEN, Morten. An Unlevel Playing Field: National Income Estimates and Reciprocal Comparison in Global Economic History. Journal of Global History, 7: 1, p. 107–128, 2012. [online, visited 07/05/2014]


JERVEN, Morten and FRANKEMA Ewout. Writing History Backwards or Sideways: Towards a Consensus on African Population, 1850-present. Economic History Review, forthcoming 2014.