African Politics and Policy

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The state of Africa in the annual report of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation

The economic growth of the past few years has not secured much progress, good governance is improving slowly, health is improving, education is declining and African governments need to adopt evidence-based policies based on good data analysis.

These are the main messages of the report.

We agree with some of these claims and with disagree with others.

Yes, the economies of Africa have experienced strong growth for many years and yes this economic growth has not always or automatically translated into progress along the developmental path. But what’s going to happen to development once African economies start slowing down?

Has good governance improved? The political instability and the violence against civilians in some settings, the active presence of terrorist groups in others, the inability to manage resources, the rising debt, the high level of corruption, the autocratic tendencies of some leaders that are curtailing voice and accountability, the dubious enforcement of the rule of law provide good reasons to doubt that good governance has actually improved. But maybe we’re wrong.

It’s quite possible that education is declining, while given the incidence and pervasiveness of diseases one has to feel somewhat skeptical about the alleged improvements in health. Ebola struck DRC twice in a year, at least ten countries are coping with measles, cholera seems to be endemic in several places, while dengue and polio are on the rise. So it’s hard to see massive progress in this respect, but once again we may be wrong and we are more than happy to stand corrected.

And yes, it’d be great if the policies enacted by African governments were evidence-based. But to have evidence-based policies you need to have evidence, and to have evidence you need to make a proper analysis of good data, and several studies starting with the work of Jerven have made quite clear that data in the continent are very poor. So even if the most proficient data analyst were tasked to analyze them and to provide analytical insight to the African governments, he would at best provide misleading information that in no way could promote the evidence-based policy making that the continent so desperately needs.

Telling Africa to adopt evidence-based policy is very good advice. But if the international community and donors do not help African countries and researchers to gather higher quality data, policy making will never be informed by valid and reliable information.

riccardo pelizzo

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