Pali Lehohla
Pali Lehohla

The real numbers: How do we fix Africa's developmental problems

By Pali Lehohla Time of article published Feb 2, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - Agenda 2063 is one in a litany of development programs Africa wished to implement to solve its developmental problems in the six decades of post-colonial existence. 

These programmes stretch from the UN first decade for development, to African brewed such as the Lagos Plan of Action, New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and other reincarnations at the global level such as the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and the third UN Development Decade for Poverty Eradication. In all these programmes, Agenda 2063 represents the boldest expression of intent. 

How then do we contribute to its achievement as we enhance its arms such as Nepad. 

This is a question African  statisticians aim to answer as they can contribute significantly to goal 2 of  the Africa we want – “An integrated continent, politically united and based on the  ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance”.

The compelling case to contribute is spurred by the recently signed African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) and the economic mischief it addresses. Whilst the African statistics system is expected to contribute and undergird all developmental questions as a science based system with increasingly high quality data, it will provide superior evidence rafts and scaffolds to the first four questions which are also most pressing for the  implementation of Africa Continental Free Trade Area. African statistics offices sit on a jewel of information most appropriate to the free trade area.

No other exercise contains this level of data in terms of quality, coverage and architectural design. Yet at conceptualisation of the Africa free trade area, this offering was not canvassed by designers nor was it offered by statisticians.

It is shameful that this has to be corrected as a matter of urgency hence the initiative by African statisticians to offer its contribution of International Comparison Data (ICP) to this urgent issue - a burning platform for Africa’s development.

The architecture of trade knowledge systems is dominated by the north with Africa’s fate sealed to the margins. Africa’s share in world affairs and its struggles to trade is a result of not the acute absence of data, but rather the inability to see, know, understand and apply already existing science based knowledge holdings.

What do we learn from connectivity and the relevance of the International Comparison Programme (ICP)? The old simple and stupid statement that customer is king is what the ICP is about. Its information is based on consumption markets.

Its output is about what the world consumes, in what regions, in what quantities and at what price.

It is the biggest market research operation the world has ever witnessed, yet Africa fails to open its ears, eyes and action towards it.

Ian Mann of Gateways consulting studies the Fortune 500 Listed Companies argues that connectivity counts and this is primarily from knowing what is consumed, by whom, where and at what price.

That is why Google, Amazon and IBM have continued to beat the competition of the likes of Massmart who have a market of 9 million against these connected companies with a market of 60 million.

The ICP architecture possesses the fixtures of Massmart and embedded the modern designs of Google and Amazon and ICP the business model of potentially knowing the customer by tracking what the markets are? Africa cannot afford to be left behind from this  knowledge market that can unlock its fortunes.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. 


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