Africa’s Necessary Data Revolution

African governments and international donors continue to devote far too few resources to data collection. Only 2% of official development aid is earmarked for improving the quality of statistics – an amount wholly insufficient to assess accurately the impact of the other 98% of aid.

WASHINGTON, DC – Since the term “data revolution” was introduced, there has been a flurry of activity to define, develop, and implement an agenda to transform the collection, use, and distribution of development statistics. That makes sense. Assessing the international community’s next development agenda, regardless of its details, will be impossible without accurate data.

Yet, in Sub-Saharan Africa – the region with the most potential for progress under the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals – accurate data are severely lacking. From 1990 to 2009, only one Sub-Saharan country had data on all 12 indicators established in 2000 by the Millennium Development Goals. Indeed, of the 60 countries with complete vital statistics, not one is in Africa. While most African countries have likely experienced economic growth during the last decade, the accuracy of the data on which growth estimates are based – not to mention data on inflation, food production, education, and vaccination rates – remains far from adequate.

Inaccurate data can have serious consequences. Consider Nigeria’s experience earlier this year, when GDP rebasing showed that the economy was nearly 90% larger than previously thought. The distorted picture of Nigeria’s economy provided by the previous statistics likely led to misguided decisions regarding private investment, credit ratings, and taxation. Moreover, it meant that Nigeria was allocated more international aid than it merited – aid that could have gone to needier countries.

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