Investing in Africa | Relieving African data poverty
There is a poverty of accurate and reliable information about society and economics in African countries. And it is affecting the growth and prosperity of those nations. Timely, reliable and relevant statistics can be used to improve every aspect of life, from fundamentals like people’s health, nutrition and education, through to governance, business and investment. Speak to any potential investor into Africa and you will find that one of the major drawbacks to investing is always the dearth of reliable data.
A measure of success or failure
Even gross domestic product (GDP) figures for many African countries cannot be relied upon, due to the suspect nature of the underlying data. In his book Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do About It, Morten Jerven says that African GDP data are affected by serious problems of reliability, accuracy and volatility. If you cannot even measure GDP reliably, then there is little hope of building a long-term strategy for development and growth in Africa. Take the UN’s new sustainable development goals. It doesn’t matter how noble the intentions or socially transformative the goals, they mean nothing if you cannot reliably measure a country’s progress towards achieving those goals.
Mining data in Africa
The question is: just what can African governments do to reverse this data poverty? The answer lies in working with academic and research institutions, the private sector – particularly in the technology world – and NGOs to form robust institutions, systems and processes for the collection and aggregation of both national data and statistics, and statistics from the informal sector. Governments need to use all the tools at their disposal to gather the necessary data that will act as bedrock to economic and social advancement.
The way ahead
Fortunately there is already a shining model for success that governments across the developed world can imitate. The Global Strategy to improve agricultural and rural statistics, or GSARS, is the largest global effort to ensure reliable statistics in the field of agriculture. The strategy is founded upon three fundamental pillars:
- Produce a minimum set of core data
- Better integrate agriculture into the National Statistical Systems
- Improve governance and statistical capacity building
There is absolutely no reason why these tenets cannot be applied beyond agriculture, to society and economics too.
It is imperative that governments find a way to gather and store information so that it may be used for the public good.
Rosalind Kainyah, MBE, Founder and Managing Director