News & Media / African countries are missing the data needed to drive development

African countries are missing the data needed to drive development

24 October, 2019

In his latest opinion article for the Financial Times, David Pilling shares insights from our African Governance Report and calls attention to the fact that, when it comes to data, African governments still have a long way to go.

Highlights of the piece are shared below. Read the full article on the FT website.

When statisticians decided to track how well African countries were doing in moving towards their 2030 UN sustainable development goals, they discovered a curious thing: no one had the faintest idea.

More accurately, on average, African governments keep statistics covering only about a third of the relevant data. To be fair, the goals, which range from eradicating poverty and hunger to creating sustainable cities and communities, are overly complicated and sometimes unquantifiable. The millennium development goals that they superseded had eight goals with 21 indicators. The SDGs have 17, with 232 indicators. 

Yet statisticians for the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which compiled the report, are on to something. African states don’t know enough about their people. In this age of mass surveillance, that might seem counterintuitive. Surely governments, not to mention private companies, have too much information on their citizenry?”

He also highlighted the gaps in civil registration in Africa, one of the topics covered in our report.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation found that only eight countries in Africa register more than 90 per cent of births. Tens of millions of people are literally invisible. Mr Ibrahim, a Sudanese billionaire, calls data ‘the missing SDG’. Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi, former director of the Center for Democratic Development in Accra, argues that a national identity card, of the sort rolled out in India and now being introduced in Ghana, is a vital component of democracy.”

The piece concludes with a powerful message for African governments to step up efforts to ensure no one is left behind. At the same time, African citizens are urged to hold their governments to account when it comes to data.

“Africans need to start demanding more of the governments that rule in their name. More data won’t fix that by itself. But if governments know — and publish — exactly what is going on, they have less excuse to ignore it. At last week’s Financial Times Africa Summit in London, Mr Bawumia said of Ghana’s drive to keep tabs on its citizenry: ‘No one can hide.’ He would have been better advised to say: ‘No one should be forgotten.’

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