Africa remains the continent most impacted by data gaps globally, with the region possessing the lowest availability of civil registration and vital statistics, a new report shows. Only three African countries (Egypt, Mauritius, and Seychelles) have a death registration system that registers at least 90 per cent of the deaths that occur.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF) on Monday published the 2023 series of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) report entitled “The Power of Data for Governance: Closing Data Gaps to accelerate Africa’s Transformation.”
Founded in 2006 by Sudan-born British business figure and telecommunications magnate Mohammed Ibrahim, who also serves as its chair, the MIF focuses on improving standards of governance and leadership in Africa and works to change misconceptions about the continent.
The 2023 IIAG report highlights the strong correlation between high-quality data and effective governance. It noted that closing data gaps will accelerate Africa’s transformation. “There is evidence that strong statistical capacity is a key enabler of good governance,” the report said.
Drawing from the 2022 IIAG dataset, the report reveals a strong positive correlation between access to high-quality statistics and effective governance across African countries from 2012 to 2021
This means that countries capable of producing high-quality statistics tend to perform better in delivering public goods and services to their citizens, which is the core objective of governance according to MIF.
In 14 African countries surveyed, MIF found that the latest population census was conducted before 2010. In Nigeria, the last population census was conducted in 2006. The report stated that four African countries accounting for 5.0 per cent of the continent’s population have a death registration system that registers less than 10 per cent of deaths that occurred: Guinea, Malawi, Niger, and South Sudan.
Look into SDGs
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 1 (SDG1) calls for the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030, but the report said only five African countries have data for the 2019-2022 period on the proportion of the population living below the international poverty line.
The report also shows that when it comes to the basic building blocks of statistics that are key to defining public policies, such as population censuses and birth and death registration, many African countries are missing crucial data.
“Even in areas where strides have been made, critical governance data gaps persist on issues including health structures, the informal economy, the environment, violence against women, child labor, and illicit financial flows,” it added.
“Sound data is at the heart of Africa’s governance and development agendas, and the report underscores its role in driving progress, assessing government performance, setting policy priorities, and ensuring trust in governments,” the report noted.
The researchers acknowledged that underfunding of data gathering and processing remains a serious challenge globally, with statistics receiving just 0.34 per cent of total Official Development Assistance (ODA).
In addition to investing in data, the report outlines critical strategies to enhance data impact and accelerate development progress on the continent.
Independence of national statistical offices
These include the importance of ensuring the independence of National Statistical Offices, harnessing alternative data sources like citizen-generated data and private company data, and leveraging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.
Commenting on the report, Mr. Ibrahim, Founder and Chair of the MIF, emphasized the importance of data for Africa in achieving key development and policy agendas: “Without data, we are driving blind, policies are misdirected and progress on the road to development is stunted.”
He added: “We must act urgently to close the data gap in Africa if we genuinely want to leave no one behind. Data is key to achieving both the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I have long been thinking that what UN Agenda 2030 should have begun with is an SDG 0 – Sound Data for Governance.”
The 2023 MIF report was launched in Accra, Ghana, at an event co-hosted with Afro barometer, a leading African research institution conducting public attitude surveys on the continent.
While statistical capacity across the continent has improved in recent decades, data shows that it remains low compared to other world regions and is hindered by several challenges, such as insufficient capacity in African National Statistical Offices (NSOs) and low levels of data literacy.
In April 2021, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century (PARIS21) published a working paper putting forward a six-point roadmap aimed at bridging the data-policy gap in Africa.
The paper recommends countries create a statistical capacity strategy to raise funds; connect to knowledge banks to hire and retain talent; build good narratives for better data use; recognize the power of foundational data; such as censuses and Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS); strengthen statistical laws to harness the data revolution; and encourage data use in policy design and implementation.
According to the Open Data Inventory (ODIN) 2022/23 by Open Data Watch, significant data gaps in both the coverage and openness of government data exist in most African countries.
“The average coverage score across all African countries was 39 (out of 100) compared to a global coverage score of 47. The average African data openness score was 41 compared to a global openness score of 53,” ODIN said.
On the informal economy, MIF said only Gambia has data for the latest year (2023) and only five African countries have data for 2022: Botswana, Mauritius, Rwanda, South Africa, and Zambia.
Also, only six other African countries have data on informal employment within the last three years: Angola, Comoros, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.
Similarly, South Africa is the African country with the most data across the last 10 years, with all data available up to 2022, while Mauritius has eight data points across this period.
The report said over the last ten years, 19 countries only have one data point while 15 have no data at all.
“Beyond the sparseness of the data, there are also discrepancies across sources, with data collected from ILO and from the SDG data portal varying in coverage for the same data point,” the report said.
When it comes to education-related data, MIF said there is still a lack of proxies measuring how countries are performing in providing their citizens with tertiary education.
“This is very clearly highlighted in the way the targets for SDG4 (Quality Education) are formulated: while the main proxies to measure primary and secondary education provision relate to education completion for both primary and secondary school levels (SDG Indicator 4.1.2), the main proxy to measure tertiary education provision relates to enrolment (SDG Indicator 4.3.2), which is a much less comprehensive measurement.”
For Africa, the main source for education data for inclusion in the IIAG is UNESCO, the report added.
“Even where there is data for tertiary education, there is less country coverage than for other school levels: only 21 African countries meet the IIAG variable selection inclusion criteria for tertiary education enrolment, compared to 32 African countries for primary education enrolment.”
About the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG)
The Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG), published by MIF since 2007, is the most comprehensive publicly available dataset measuring governance performance across African countries.
Every two years, the IIAG provides comparable data on the whole spectrum of African governance from security and safety, to rule of law, transparency, rights, participation, economic opportunities, education, health, and environment in 54 African countries over ten years.