Why Africa needs to address data gaps

Policy, planning and decision-making process are critical to Africa’s development agenda. Decision-making process relies on information. The quality of such information, which eventually determines the impact of decisions made, depends on the quality of data. Data is the building blocks of information. The capacity to collect solid, timely and reliable data is paramount.

Africa lags behind when it comes to collecting timely, accurate and reliable data. Sustainable development can only be attained when allocation of resources is guided by statistical evidence. Evidence-based decision making will determine where donor funds are needed the most for development, where governments need to channel their resources to improve the social welfare of the masses, what policies are needed to bolster agricultural productivity and how rural development programs are impacting communities in the region.

Attaining standard development goals requires monitoring progress, benchmarking and taking the necessary steps to ensure development effort stays on course. Good quality data is required to guide the fundamental building blocks that are universally used to calculate almost any major economic and social welfare indicator. Such data needs to be accurate to ensure policies attain their intended impact on societies. Accurate data on births and deaths, taxes and trade, growth and poverty among others are vital to the achievement of standards development goals.

Governments need to adopt international statistical standards and tailor them to suit local conditions. With the help of local civil society groups and donors, governments must take the lead in addressing institutional, infrastructure and legal challenges impeding data collection. There has to be some level of investment directed towards building statistical capacities of a country’s institutions.

An efficient data supply side is vital and ensures collection of accurate and timely data. But, of equally chief importance is data analysis and dissemination. Raw data needs to be analyzed to generate information that is insightful and influences decision making. Policy makers require quality information that is efficiently disseminated when required. Africa was put on notice after the continent’s statistics came under criticism in 2014 following the substantial revision in GDP in a number of countries after rebasing, sensationally making Nigeria the biggest economy in Africa overnight.

They say what cannot be measured cannot be done. Progress needs to be measured using the right metrics and through benchmarking. Significance progress has been made in achieving quality and reliable data but more still needs to be done. The involvement of all relevant stakeholders, both local and international, will go a long way in supporting Africa’s statistical capacity and addressing the various challenges. Sustainable development goals squarely rely on decisions made by policymakers, who in turn depend on the information derived from data.

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