The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
If every life counts, we should count every life. Some may think that numbers are impersonal and boring. But data tell stories – stories about communities, about countries, and about the whole world. Data is also a critical lever for governments and others to try to change those stories, and for individuals, being counted gives people the power to improve their lives.
Refugees are often uncounted, and therefore invisible to the governments they depend on for vital services. But in Ethiopia, providing birth registration services in refugee camps has enabled vulnerable, often overlooked children to be counted and therefore to access education and other services. In the year after the programme was introduced in 2017, enrolment of refugee children in primary school increased by nearly 40%.
Being in the data puts people in the story. But too often it’s the most vulnerable, the poorest, the most discriminated against, who are excluded from data. That’s why I believe that lack of data is an issue of global injustice. This underpins the work we do at the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. The challenge is global, and it is systemic, but the solutions are at our fingertips.
According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s latest African Governance Report, “quality statistics are essential for all stages of evidence-based decision-making, which include monitoring of social and economic indicators; allocating political representation and government resources; guiding private sector investment; and information for the international donor community for programme design and policy formulation.”
African governments are halfway through the First Ten-Year Implementation Plan (2014-2023) of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and have 10 years left to achieve the globally agreed 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now more than ever, the ability and capacity to monitor progress, and to swiftly adapt resources and policies accordingly, is critical to effectively implement both agendas.
However, as outlined in the report, and as we often hear from our partners in Africa, the continent faces a number of challenges with regards to the collection, availability, and dissemination of reliable basic data:
- Only six of the 17 SDGs have indicators with sufficient levels of data (over 50%) to assess progress for Africa.
- From 2009-2018, 39 African countries, home to 711.1 million citizens, conducted a population and housing census. This means that only 54 percent of the continent's population live in a country that has counted everybody in the past 10 years.
- Progress on civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) has been slow. A civil registration system is key to enable people to be seen and supported by government: birth registration means children can prove their age and have the right protection in law, marriage registration allows widows to claim inheritance rights, and death registrations provide essential information for public health programmes and planning. The African average score for the Civil Registration Ibrahim Index of Africa Governance (IIAG) indicator has only increased by +0.7, from a low base, during the period 2015-2017.
One reason for these data gaps is inadequate funding and limited autonomy among national statistical offices (NSOs). It’s not all bad news: the 2017 African average score for the Governmental Statistical Capacity IIAG sub-indicator improved by +3.9 points over the decade (2008-2017). However, statistical capacity on the continent is still low.
But progress is possible, and some countries are leading the way in this area. Namibia is demonstrating how comprehensive, holistic CRVS and identity management systems can be implemented and strengthened to deliver results that improve people’s lives. The Global Partnership is working with the government of Ghana to improve the data on children with disabilities, ensuring they have access to education and all the opportunities it brings. These are just two of many positive examples of progress.
Together, African countries have taken steps to strengthen the availability of reliable data through initiatives such as the Africa Data Consensus, established in 2015 with the aim to create a new statistical landscape, as well as the African Charter of Statistics set up in 2009. This is a code of professional ethics centred around six major principles to be enforced by a range of stakeholders including statisticians and professionals working in the area of statistics in Africa.
The Data for Now initiative, launched at UN General Assembly by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed, is another example. Through Data for Now, we’re working with our partners at the World Bank, UN Statistics Division, and SDSN TReNDS to increase the sustainable use of methods and tools that improve the timeliness, coverage, and quality of SDG data for participating countries. The initiative kicked off in Kigali last year, so stay tuned for more news on this work.
Such steps to improve Africa’s fragmented data landscape must be applauded. We must advocate for better and more reliable data if we are to ensure progress towards achieving Agendas 2063 & 2030.
It is clear that numbers matter. That is why our team at The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, and our network of partners, are working to create a world where good data is used to achieve just and sustainable societies.