The paper examines the economic performance of a large number of African countries using an international comparable data set and the latest technique for analysis. The paper focuses on growth in total factor productivity and its decomposition into technical change and efficiency change components. The analysis is undertaken using the data envelopment analysis (DEA). The present study uses data of 16 countries over the period 1970–2001. It was found that, globally, during that period, total factor productivity has experienced a positive evolution in sampled countries. This good performance of the agricultural sector was due to good progress in technical efficiency rather than technical progress. The region suffered a regression in productivity in the 1970s, and made some progress during the 1980s and 1990s. The study also highlights the fact that technical change has been the main constraint of achievement of high levels of total factor productivity during the reference period in sub-Saharan Africa. Contrariwise, in Maghreb countries, technological change has been the main driving force of productivity growth. Finally, the results indicate that institutional factors as well as agro-ecological factors are important determinants of agricultural productivity growth.