A West African experiment: constructing a GDP series for colonial Ghana, 1891–1950


  • Earlier versions of this article were presented to a seminar at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, 24 May 2012; at the Third European Congress on World and Global History, London School of Economics, April 2011; and at the African Economic History Workshop, Geneva, 10–12 Sept. 2012. I am very grateful to the organizers and for all the contributions from participants. I would also like to thank colleagues who commented separately: Ewout Frankema, Leandro Prados de la Escosura, Stephen Broadberry, Gareth Austin, and this journal's anonymous referees. Any mistakes are mine. The research was funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Canada.


There has been a recent surge in research on long-term African development. For this research agenda to be fruitful and its theories tested, it is crucial to have consistent estimates of economic change. However, there is a lack of reliable time series data for the colonial period in Sub-Saharan Africa. This article contributes new time series data for the Gold Coast and Ghana between 1890 and 2010 and in particular a new GDP time series for Ghana for the years 1891–1957. The series implies a sustained period of economic expansion from the late nineteenth century. This suggests a revision of some prevalent truths about the history of economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, and points the way forward for expanding the database to cover the colonial period for other African economies.