Friday, 9 December 2011

Africa's Data Problems

Obtaining reliable data from many places on the 
African continent is still a big challenge. Economic data published by the UN and other related agencies give workable estimates, yes, but to achieve near-uniform development across sectors, a breakthrough in data collection, organization and analysis is imperative. The failure of a majority of state institutions of National Planning to achieve remarkable results in sub-Saharan Africa has its foundations in the fractured framework of data handling and analysis in African nations. Consequently, where there is no dearth of political will, the governments still lack the crucial information they need to drive sustainable growth in many African states. We cannot continue to rely on the estimates of international agencies to come to the knowledge of ourselves and our environment. This protracted dependence will do no good to African states in the long term. Africa must 'own' and drive the growth she wants. Nigeria provides an example. 

The Nigerian economy has been projected to exceed that of South Africa, the continent’s largest economy, in a little over a decade (though it might happen sooner with the current plans to use the reference year for computing Nigeria’s real GDP as 2008). A cursory survey of both economies brings an apparent disparity to the fore: the informal economy in Nigeria is largely unaccounted for compared to that of South Africa. This of course has fostered the flourishing of a cancerous culture of tax evasion in Nigeria over many years. In the place of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the ‘taxes’ are paid to a unique set of amateur regulators who have instituted themselves as protectors of certain informal enterprises.  In the end, such loopholes filter through to the central government with the result that insufficient resources weaken not just fiscal policy, but wreck the national development plan even while it is still in black and white.

Seemingly, the UN (or the IMF or the World Bank), with all its mandates and great responsibilities (with the result that it should probably be busier than any other non-profit entity in the world), has more information about a country than the country itself. Of course state information is an essential resource for the delivery of its mandate, but do the international agencies desire prosperity more for any African state than the state desires for itself? 

For Africa's real transformation, a revolution in our capacity to collect, interpret and analyze data – all done correctly – will catalyze and accelerate the process of African development. The tools are available already, what needs developing is our capacity – African Education – and the right deployment of this capacity in high probability setups for not just lifting Africa from poverty but also going forward to being able to tackle 21st century challenges. The rest of civilization provides Africa with a rich history of invaluable lessons. The opportunities are tremendous. 

Finally, the educational system of the typical African state leaves a lot to be desired. As more  investments are projected to flow into Africa in the coming decade, the local management of such investments becomes a priority. The 'rich' human resources in Africa may NOT be useful if incompetence is the order of the day and the inability to handle economic prosperity is as pervasive as oxygen. 

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