recommended reading

The Infrastructure Africa Really Needs Is Better Data Reporting

African heads of state are gathering in Washington for an unprecedented summit to promote business development.

African heads of state are gathering in Washington for an unprecedented summit to promote business development. // Charles Dharapak/AP

This week African leaders met with officials in Washington and agreed to billions of dollars of US investments and infrastructure dealsBut the terrible state of statistical reporting in most of Africa means that it will be nearly impossible to gauge how effective these deals are at making Africans, or the American investors, better off.

Data reporting on the continent is sketchy. Just look at the recent GDP revisions of large countries. How is it that Nigeria’s April GDP recalculation catapulted it ahead of South Africa, making it the largest economy in Africa overnight? Or that Kenya’s economy is actually 20% larger (paywall) than previously thought?

Indeed, countries in Africa get noticeably bad scores on the World Bank’s Bulletin Board on Statistical Capacity, an index of data reporting integrity.

Bad data is not simply the result of inconsistencies or miscalculations: African governments have an incentive to produce statistics that overstate their economic development.

A recent working paper from the Center for Global Development (CGD) shows how politics influence the statistics released by many African countries.

One indicator the report examines is school enrollment rates. By comparing household surveys to administrative records, it finds that in 15 of the 21 countries examined, official figures overstate enrollment. In Sub-Saharan Africa, official numbers put enrollment 3% higher than the surveys do.

The report also looks at statistics the government has beautified for the sake of international donors. For instance government vaccination rates are higher than those reported by household surveys.

Optimistic statistics also attract investors. Following Nigeria’s overnight GDP explosion, for example, the Financial Times reported analysts saying that “the revision could serve as a catalyst for further investment”.

But in the long run, dodgy statistics aren’t good for anyone. They “distort the way we understand the opportunities that are available,” says Amanda Glassman, one of the CDG report’s authors. US firms have pledged $14 billion in trade deals at the summit in Washington. No doubt they would like to know whether high school enrollment promises to create a more educated workforce in a given country, or whether its people have been immunized for viruses.

Overly optimistic indicators also distort how a government decides where to focus its efforts. If school enrollment appears to be high, why implement programs intended to increase it?

The CDG report suggests increased funding to national statistical agencies, and making sure that they are wholly independent from their governments. President Obama is talking up $7 billion into African agriculture. But unless cash and attention are given to improving statistical integrity, he may never know whether that investment has borne fruit.

Reprinted with permission from Quartz. The original story can be found here

Threatwatch Alert

Denial-of-service attack

Cyberattacks Block Lloyds Customers from Online Banking

See threatwatch report

JOIN THE DISCUSSION

Close [ x ] More from Nextgov
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from Nextgov.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.