News & Media / Data paucity in Africa

Data paucity in Africa

20 December, 2017

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF) was established in 2006 with the core belief that governance and leadership lie at the heart of any tangible and shared improvement in the quality of life of African citizens. To this end, the Foundation defines governance as 'the provision of the political, social and economic public goods and services that every citizen has the right to expect from his or her state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens.'

To ensure the successful and inclusive delivery of public goods and services, governments need reliable information. Without measurement it is impossible to develop an accurate sense of needs and performance, that is the basis of effective policymaking. Dr Mo Ibrahim, Chair and Founder of the Foundation, is a strong advocate for sound data governance in Africa, as he articulated in a 2015 Financial Times op-ed on the extreme poverty of data:


Our friends in the development sector and our African leaders would not dream of driving their cars or flying without instruments. But somehow they pretend they can manage and develop countries without reliable data.



Extreme poverty of data


The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) objective of leaving no one behind in the path towards sustainable development, and the challenging ambitions of Agenda 2063, require for actors at all levels to be involved, from implementation to monitoring and reporting. Availability, quality and access to information is thus vital, and this means for the continent to get its measurement systems right, and for countries to develop their own abilities to gather and use robust and reliable data. Positively, over the past decade, the data landscape in Africa has steadily progressed in the quantity of data and data sources, areas covered by data and data dissemination – also as a result of new technologies such as mobile phones or citizen-generated and perceptions data. Such African data revolution is still however facing challenges in the frequency and quality of the data produced. Data deficits, gaps and weaknesses do persist throughout the continent, severely affecting key areas such as births and deaths registration, poverty, employment and electoral registers.

In Africa, poverty alleviation is one of the main expectations citizens have of their governments. However, data on poverty is severely limited. Of the fifty countries that have collected data on 'income poverty level' (people living on $1.90 a day) on the continent, only a third (17) have two or more data points in the past decade, with the latest data year being 2015. Household surveys, key tools for governments to produce poverty statistics, are conducted on average every three to ten years, and often published at least a full year or two after the data collection.

Just six African countries have data for the 'completeness of death registration' indicator produced by the World Bank (measuring the estimated percentage of deaths registered with cause of death information in the vital registration system of a country in the period 1990-2012): Egypt, Mauritius, Morocco, Seychelles, South Africa and Tunisia.

On the issue of maintaining a clean and updated electoral register, during their most recent elections, Chad, Ghana, Namibia, São Tomé & Príncipe, Seychelles and Zimbabwe had more registered voters than the size of the voting population, while registered voters accounted for less than two thirds of the voting population in Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Sudan and Tunisia.


MIF commitment to sound data governance


In a continuous commitment to strengthening the data landscape on the African continent, the Foundation published an advocacy report in 2016, Strength in Numbers, alongside MIF’s annual drawing attention to data challenges of critical importance to African governance.

With a view to support enhancing data quality on Africa, MIF supports three large-scale data collection projects – partnering with Afrobarometer since 2011, Global Integrity (on the Africa Integrity Indicators) since 2012, and Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) since 2016. The partnership with Afrobarometer represents the Foundation's biggest financial commitment to a data project to date, totalling $2.5 million. These data projects provide much needed statistics on key governance issues especially around issues of democracy, poverty and participation, which are still not captured comprehensively enough by traditional data.

The IIAG was created to provide a tool to measure and monitor governance performance in every African country, allowing users to qualify analysis and narratives on Africa, assess the delivery of public goods and services, and policy outcomes across the continent. Now in its 11th iteration, the IIAG has been refined and strengthened each year to better capture the state of African governance, under the guidance of the Since the first edition in 2006, the number of IIAG indicators has almost doubled, passing from 58 to 100 in 2017. These 100 indicators are clustered to incorporate different types of data (qualitative assessment, opinion survey, official data and public attitude survey) from diverse sources to give more nuanced and accurate perspectives of governance issues, at times combining narrow issues to measure a relatively broader issue. 28% of the data in the 2017 IIAG comes from African sources, namely African Union Commission, Afrobarometer, CDD-Ghana, African Development and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

The IIAG uses a transparent, simple and replicable method of data aggregation. A simple average is calculated using the structure of the Index to arrive at the Overall Governance scores. While the first data year in the index time series (2000) had only 23% data from data providers, the latest data year (2016) now provides 57% of data from data providers, with only 33% of the data imputed and 9% non-available.

All the underlying data are also made publicly available. The Foundation is committed to making data on the quality of governance in Africa freely available and accessible to all. As such, the MIF welcomes and encourages any accurate reproduction, translation and dissemination of this material.

The future African landscape will be defined by the SDGs and Agenda 2063 which needs reliable data in order to measure countries' progress towards these goals. While improved data on Africa and data on governance will go some way towards ensuring these goals are met, and governments successfully deliver public goods and services to their citizens, sound data for governance will be integral in turning these goals to reality.

There is a slight positive correlation between Overall Governance and the indicator Governmental Statistical Capacity (r=+0.65), suggesting countries with a stronger state capacity to deliver political, social and economic public goods and services to their citizens may have better statistical capacity systems. On average, Governmental Statistical Capacity displays Increasing Improvement on the continent, with 17 countries also reflecting this trend.

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