A vendor sells a map of Africa along the streets of Bujumbura, Burundi. Photo by: REUTERS / Thomas Mukoya

NAIROBI — Data gaps across the African continent threaten to hinder the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s first governance report released on Tuesday.

The report, “Agendas 2063 & 2030: Is Africa On Track?“ based on an analysis of the foundation’s Ibrahim index of African governance, found that since the adoption of both of these agendas, the availability of public data in Africa has declined. With data focused on social outcomes, there has been a notable decline in education, population and vital statistics, such as birth and death records, which allow citizens to access public services.

The index, on which the report is based, is the most comprehensive dataset on African governance, drawing on ten years of data of all 54 African nations. An updated index is released every two years.

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The AU’s agenda, a 50-year framework for the continent that was adopted in 2015, looks at areas such as inclusive social and economic growth, regional integration, and security. The U.N.’s goals, a 15-year global framework also adopted in 2015, focuses on sustainable development in the areas of economy, society, and environment.

The report found that almost half of the 255 targets of the AU’s agenda are not directly quantifiable and fewer than 20% have an indicator to measure progress. It also found that on average fewer than 40% of the 17 SDG indicators have sufficient levels of data to track progress accurately, over half of the data sources on SDG indicators are estimations, a product of statistical modeling or global monitoring, and only a third of data originate from direct country sources.

“We are deeply worried by the inability to accurately monitor progress against these targets on the continent. Data is an essential foundation for effective policymaking and resource mobilization,” said Mo Ibrahim, chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in a press release.

“Without data, we drive blind — policies are misdirected and progress on the road to development is stunted. We must all act urgently to close the ‘data gap,’ if indeed we aim to leave no one behind.”

Poor data

The main challenge in the production of quality, timely data, according to the report, is a lack of funding and lack of independence of the national statistical offices.

Only one country, Mauritius, had a perfect score in terms of independence of its national statistics office – meaning that its office can collect the data it chooses, publish without approval from other arms of the government, and is sufficiently funded. Fifteen African nations scored zero in terms of the independence of their offices.

When examining governmental statistical capacity, Egypt and Seychelles also scored highly, whereas Somalia and Libya scored the lowest.

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Between 2014 and 2017, Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, and Seychelles strengthened their statistical capacity the most, whereas the Central African Republic, Chad, and Comoros saw the greatest levels of deterioration in national capacity to collect statistics.

One area that many countries are failing in is conducting national censuses. Only about half of the continent's population live in a country where a census was conducted between 2009 and 2018. DRC, Eritrea, and Somalia haven’t conducted a census since before 1990.

Only eight countries have birth registration systems covering at least 90% of the population, over the past 10 years — Chad and Tanzania have the worst scores. Only three countries have a death registration system that covers at least 90% of their population — Niger has the worst score.

Poor quality data can also be linked to a lack of uniformity in the methodology and definitions used, lack of national coordination, inadequate financial and human resources, as well as weak infrastructure and technology, according to the report.

In the area of health, for example, there is a growing dissatisfaction with basic health services across the continent, with the largest deterioration of citizen perception in Madagascar, Malawi, and Mozambique. But in determining what’s causing the dissatisfaction, and how this impacts progress toward universal health coverage, there is a lack of data in areas such as health infrastructure, capacity, and affordability for citizens.

When examining the AU’s agenda there is a concern that collecting comparable and reliable data for specific targets might prove difficult, such as the goal to “increase youth and women participation in integrated agricultural value chains by at least 30%.” The majority of targets also lack a “clearly established temporal baseline to measure progress against.”

Nineteen of the AU’s agenda goals are also qualitative, having an aspirational nature, making them hard to measure. For example, the goal that “cultures, values and norms of local communities are respected and protected.”

According to Open Data Watch’s Open Data Inventory, on average African nations score the lowest on data pertaining to energy use and pollution. Over the past four years, the largest declines have been in statistics on education outcomes, education facilities, population, and vital statistics.

But glaring data gaps don’t exist in all areas. On average, African nations score highly in terms of data related to economic and financial statistics.

Strategies and new technologies

There are efforts to improve the quality of data collection across the continent. For example, the “Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century” pushes for the improvement of data in low-income and lower-middle-income countries to design, implement, and monitor national statistics strategies and nationally-owned and produced data for SDG indicators.

Currently, 37 nations are implementing strategies, five are waiting for the adoption of the strategies by their governments, 11 countries have expired strategies, and one country, Somalia, has no strategy — with no plans to create one.

The Praia Group on Governance Statistics was also created in 2015 to encourage countries to produce quality statistics and is creating a handbook on best practices. The AU Institute for Statistics in Africa opened in Tunis, Tunisia, in 2018.

Through the Africa Programme on Accelerated Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics, the African Development Bank, the African Union Commission, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa are working to build unified policy frameworks around collecting civil registration and vital statistics.

The use of mobile phones and geospatial information also have shown promising signs that these technologies can help to bridge data gaps, according to the report. But to really harness this, “the production of data needs to be more agile and adaptable to user needs.”

About the author

  • Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is a Global Health Reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries.