In reviewing a lot of data [completely unrelated to Africa or even international relations] lately I was thinking about some of the alarming and inspiring statistics we hear about ourselves as Africans. Whether in the days of the dark continent or now of the Africa Rising narrative or paradigm shift, where does the information driving this come from? We hear numbers that, depending on who we are and our interests are actionable. Take for example that Angola’s life expectancy at birth is at 51 in 2013 from 48 in 2004 compared to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa of 56 from 52 (World Health Organization). Who collected the data and why assuming it was collected so something could be done or because something was being done to affect that number? After the data was collected who decided what those numbers meant?
How can we be in control of our development and positive or negative indicators to be able to do something about the lists of things on Africa’s to-do list if we haven’t measured for ourselves what is lacking or doing well?
Most of the numbers used to indicate a positive change or regression are collected by NGOs who specialize in addressing a specific topic. In other countries there are visible govt agencies aggregating the data whether routine or nonroutine. The most notable for every single person being the Census Bureau. The layers of raw data they collect is analyzed and turned into information that in turn informs the decisions made in employment, housing, education, health etc etc.
Who is doing this in Africa? Yes there are international NGOs and more importantly local ones who do manage to collect some data, BUT their capacity is limited. Funding drives what is measured and by whom and why.
Anyway, whoever they are collected by – numbers don’t lie! Based on the numbers available that indicate development gaps, let’s turn that into information that informs action! Maybe through measurable action on our parts as Africans we’ll be able to make enough progress to eventually collect our own.