“If it cannot be measured, it cannot be done”: The importance of good data for development

15/10/2014
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The key to Africa’s progress relies on policies informed by reliable and timely data. Reliable and accessible data is of paramount importance to assure good governance and accountability, and increasingly to inform decision-making and capital allocation within the private sector.

These were the messages behind a keynote address African Development Bank President Donald Kaberuka delivered Thursday, October 9 at the “Delivering on the Data Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa” event at the Center for Global Development in Washington, DC.

“Our ability to make progress going forward will depend on our ability to measure what we do,” Kaberuka said. “The quality of our policies will be that much more effective if informed by solid reliable data.”

Kaberuka conceded that African data may be weak compared to other regions, but over the past 10 years significant improvements have been achieved in terms of data quality, reliability and cross-country comparison by addressing a number of institutional, infrastructure and legal capacity challenges. In this regard, the AfDB has contributed about US $100 million, towards building statistical capacities in its regional member countries (RMCs).

Along with other partners and the countries themselves, the Bank has supported actions aimed at addressing the poor state of African civil registries; adapting international statistical standards to suit local conditions; data harmonization, generation and dissemination and scaling up of surveys and censuses in Africa.

The Bank has launched a number of initiatives including the Africa Information Highway, an open data platform to increase public access to official and other statistics with data portals installed in most countries and regional organizations; support for enhancing capacity for generating statistics on infrastructure, labour, agriculture and rural development; and, the International Comparison Program for Africa (ICP) for standardization of price and income statistics across countries.

“We must do what it takes to further strengthen African statistics, national accounts, balance of payments, trade, monetary surveys, labour statistics and above all household surveys and censuses,” Kaberuka said.

African statistics have come under criticism recently following the substantial revisions in GDP after the rebasing in a number of African countries. The evolution of poverty reduction and the increase in Africa’s middle class have also provoked skepticism.

However, Kaberuka observed that these controversies have not taken into account that the outcomes are similar to other regions, rebasing is a normal global periodic statistical exercise and that the dramatic changes were due to long delays in rebasing and economic transformations. As African countries rebase more frequently, the revisions will be less dramatic and similar in trend as the other regions.

With regards to poverty and middle class, an alternative threshold based on ICP approach has been proposed by the Bank.

“I welcome the call for a Data Revolution to support policy, planning, and decision-making processes in the post-2015 Development Agenda,” Kaberuka said, adding that home-grown African initiatives put in place over the last 10 years have great potentials to usher in the Data Revolution in Africa.

“We will continue to work with all partners in building statistical capacity across the region as part of the Bank’s overarching mission to alleviate poverty and build sustainable and inclusive growth across the continent,” Kaberuka concluded.