Nigeria takes pole position

Africa has a new biggest economy: Nigeria. The country’s Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has upgraded its GDP estimate by $163bn to $510bn. That pushes it into pole position, above South Africa. It also means that the country’s ratio of debt-to-GDP has been reduced, potentially making it look more attractive to foreign lenders.

The new figures take account of new sectors of the Nigerian economy that didn’t exist, or were relatively unimportant, prior to 1990 (that’s the date that was previously used as the base for price adjustments). These include the telecoms and information technology industries, and the country’s film industry (known as ‘Nollywood’).

Producing accurate GDP data is tricky at the best of times, and it’s particularly difficult for many emerging countries, due to the rapid growth of various sectors, the presence of a large underground economy and the importance of the unpaid labour of household members.

However, even if these new figures (which were higher than most independent economists had expected) accurately represent the size of Nigeria’s economy, its population remains far from rich. GDP per head is still only around $3,000, compared with South Africa’s GDP per head of more than $11,000.