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Africa’s transformational agenda will also build on progress made in terms of statistics. How would you assess statistics within the context of the continent’s regional integration?
The African integration agenda addresses three main areas, namely political integration, economic integration, as well as social and cultural integration. For it to fully succeed, it requires not only quality statistical information, but also harmonized and comparable data across time and space. The Bank, working together with the AUC and UNECA, was the key driver in formulating the Strategy for the Harmonization of Statistics in Africa (SHaSA), which was adopted by the African Union Heads of State and Government in 2011 to inform the regional integration agenda.
Sometimes I am asked why statistics play such a vital role. Well, data are required by a vast spectrum of public and private sector users, on issues ranging from infrastructure development, to trade, financial integration, macroeconomic performance and management, climate change, rural development and food security. Policymakers, at national, subregional and regional levels depend increasingly on evidence-based research. This calls for reliable, timely and harmonized statistics, which the Bank is providing via its Data Portal for the benefit of all its regional member countries and development partners. In this way, the Bank acts as a regional hub fostering a standardized approach to statistical development across the continent.
Data are also required on soft issues such as political and financial commitment to regional integration, including removal of barriers to intra-African trade; and improving the business climate and competitiveness. The Bank seeks to provide information on these areas also, in support of regional integration.
In short, statistics are critical for informing the continental integration agenda; for issue identification, for the formulation of integration policies and strategies needed to address the challenges, and for monitoring the implementation of policies and strategies.
To what extent would you say statistics have helped to actualize the Bank’s regional integration vision?
As part of its program to advance the regional integration agenda, the Bank has set up a regional integration indicators database. The database provides statistical information on the status of political and financial commitment of individual African countries and Regional Economic Communities (RECs), on macroeconomic performance and management, growth and key growth drivers, financial integration, trade, business climate, competitiveness, infrastructure development, among others.
The Bank’s regional integration strategy highlights infrastructure development, particularly transportation (e.g. better rail links, regional highways), ICT (access to high-speed broadband connectivity for homes and businesses), as well as soft infrastructure (e.g. development of one-stop border posts, free-trade areas, relaxation of tariffs and visa controls) as pathways to spur regional integration by facilitating the movement of people, goods and services among African countries.
Information provided in the regional integration and trade statistics portal, which is part of the Bank’s Africa Information Highway (AIH), informs the process of monitoring this regional integration agenda. For example, available data reveal that trade among African countries is increasing in volume and proportion, albeit at a much slower rate than we would like to see. We know from the information we have that although the share of intra-African trade of goods and services remains low, it increased from about 8.5% ($30.6 billion) in 2000 to 10.5% ($153 billion) in 2012.
The Bank continues to provide assistance to RECs to enhance their capacity to harmonize and standardize methodologies and establish databases for regional integration statistics that meet international standards. This includes support to regional Statistical Training Centers to build the skills of young statisticians.
Through its Africa Infrastructure Knowledge Program (AIKP), the Bank aims to significantly improve the knowledge base on the state of infrastructure in Africa, its performance and investment needs.
A number of key reports and studies have been produced, including, “An Integrated Approach to Infrastructure Provision in Africa,” “the State of Infrastructure in East Africa,” as well as Regional Integration Statistical Profiles for some of the RECs. All these knowledge products have helped to actualize the Bank’s regional integration vision.
What specific statistics projects have captured the Bank’s activities in relation with regional integration?
As I mentioned earlier, the Bank in collaboration with AUC and UNECA, developed the Strategy for Harmonization of Statistics in Africa (SHaSA). The SHaSA identifies data needs to support the integration agenda, as well as the transformation processes needed to deliver these data.
As part of operationalizing the SHaSA, let me mention a few initiatives that the Bank, through its ongoing statistical capacity-building program, is currently implementing. First, the Bank supports the development of the Harmonized Consumer Price Indices (HCPI) in Regional Economic Communities (RECs). The HCPI is intended to measure regional price stability, macroeconomic convergence, and inflation levels across the participating RECs. Currently, we are producing HCPI on a monthly basis for SADC and COMESA countries and work is underway to generate similar data for ECOWAS, AMU and EAC member states.
The Bank’s Africa Information Highway (AIH) was launched in November 2012 and has established live online data links among all 54 African countries and 16 sub-regional and regional organizations.
The overarching objective of AIH is to significantly increase public access to official and other statistics in Africa, while supporting African countries to improve data quality, management, and dissemination. The use of common standards enhances the comparability of data across Africa and so promotes the continental integration agenda. The Bank also takes a lead role in coordinating the International Comparison Program (ICP) for Africa, which aims to produce internationally comparable price and expenditure data as well as purchasing power parity (PPP) estimates to facilitate cross-country comparisons of price levels, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and related economic aggregates in real terms and free of price and exchange rate distortions.
The Bank’s African Financial Markets Initiative (AFMI), launched in 2008, aims at fostering financial integration across Africa by supporting the creation of local currency bond markets. The AFMI Database – which is part of the Bank’s AIH – provides updated information on African local currency bond markets.
These are just some of the ways in which the Bank’s Statistics Department is working to support a harmonized approach to information gathering, management and dissemination across the continent.