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Nigeria: Economy $510 billion, biggest in Africa

By Michelle Faul Associated Press | 4/7/2014, 10:36 a.m.
Nigeria's recalculated economy is worth $510 billion, by far the biggest in Africa, officials announced Sunday using long overdue revised ...
FILE - In this Monday, April. 22, 2013 file photo, Staff of Etisalat Nigeria wait for customers during the launch of mobile number portability in Lagos, Nigeria. Nigeria is set to overtake South Africa as the biggest economy in Africa with a long-overdue recount of its GDP that will give it continental bragging rights but do little for its 112 million people scrabbling to survive in desperate poverty. That’s cause for reflection in longtime rival South Africa, the only African member of the G20, on the strength of its position as the continent’s economic powerhouse. Finance Minister Ngozi Ikonjo-Iweala is to announce new GDP figures on Sunday, April. 6, 2014 to include previously uncounted industries like telecommunications and IT, banking and insurance, music and airlines, and the burgeoning online retail outlets and Nollywood films that didn’t exist when the last count was made in 1990. Then, there were 300,000 landlines. Today, Nigeria has 100 million cell phone users. Sunday Alamba/AP.

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria's recalculated economy is worth $510 billion, by far the biggest in Africa, officials announced Sunday using long overdue revised data that gives the West African nation continental bragging rights but does little for the 70 percent of its citizens living in poverty.

The new value of Nigeria's GDP adds previously uncounted industries like telecommunications, information technology, music, airlines, burgeoning online retail outlets and Nollywood film production that didn't exist when the last GDP count was made in 1990. Then, there were 300,000 landlines. Today, Nigeria has 100 million cell phone users.

The new figures also will take account of growth in agriculture and tourism that have flourished since democracy was restored in 1999, ending decades of military dictatorship.

With one fell swoop, Nigeria knocked out of the ring South Africa, whose GDP of $353 billion was previously counted the biggest on the continent and which is the only African member of the G20.

"Nigeria's success is a reminder that Africa is moving ahead despite its current challenges," said investment manager Kevin Daly of UK-based Aberdeen Asset Management, which invests in Africa. He pointed out that it is a Nigerian, billionaire Aliko Dangote, who is building Africa's largest privately owned oil refinery.

Investors' attention will be drawn by the fact that while oil remains the biggest source of government revenue, about 80 percent, oil production is declining while Nigeria's agriculture, communications and service sectors are enjoying healthy growth.

Finance Minister Ngozi Ikonjo-Iweala told a news conference Sunday that the new data makes Nigeria the 26th largest economy in the world and raises its per capita income to $2,688, making it No. 121 in the world, up from No. 135.

That is still feeble compared to South Africa's $7,336 for its population of 48 million. South Africa, bedeviled by mining strikes, violent protests over services and a lackluster performance that has kept annual growth at around 3.5 percent, still has infrastructure unrivaled on the continent, most notably a power sector that generates 10 times more electricity than Nigeria.

Nigeria's revised figures will lower its much-vaunted growth rate of 7 percent but also will decrease an already low debt to GDP ratio of 21 percent, which should lower interest rates should the government want to borrow more, economists said.

Ikonjo-Iweala blamed decades of military rule for the delay in repositioning Nigeria's economy, but the country is not alone. Ghana's economy jumped by 60 percent when it recalculated its goods and services production in 2012, and Kenya and Zambia are considering the same.

Ikonjo-Iweala has said that Nigeria's economy needs to grow at about 10 percent to address massive poverty and youth unemployment. Government statistics say unemployment increased from 12.7 percent in 2007 to 23.9 percent in 2011; the World Bank says unemployment among young Nigerians stands at 38 percent but analysts say it is as high as 80 percent in many parts of the country.

Financial analyst Bismarck Rewane called the revisions "a vanity. The Nigerian population is not better off tomorrow because of that announcement. It doesn't put more money in the bank, more food in their stomach. It changes nothing."

Nigerians took to social networks to share their feelings. "So Nigeria has now supplanted South Africa as Africa's largest economy. But I've not had light (electricity) for seven days, so it means nothing to me," said one tweet.

Another commented: "Nigeria is Africa's biggest economy - on paper. So technically, I'm rich in theory."


Associated Press writer Bashir Adigun contributed to this report from Abuja, Nigeria.