By stating in an interview to the Wall Street Journal that inaccurate methodologies, or even a political bias, have affected the performance of some states in the “Doing Business” ranking, the former – highly iconoclastic – chief economist of the World Bank Paul Romer triggered a real storm. The interview particularly shakes Chile, a country especially victim of this bias. Former Socialist President Michelle Bachelet said she was very “concerned” and called for a thorough investigation of the institution.
If Africa is not at the heart of this case, the Chilean case is a new opportunity to sound the alarm. In fact, African countries, like many emerging countries, have not yet succeeded in developing tools for collecting data and producing reliable statistics. African governments, researchers and citizens depend on data provided by international institutions such as the UN, the OECD, the IMF and the World Bank.
Far from wanting to discredit the essential work done by these different institutions, it is no less important that Africa fully embraces the challenge of data and statistics in order to develop its own strategic vision. No international institutions is immune from possible manipulations, or simply from structural bias against certain countries or certain types of reforms. But an African analysis of the development of the continent is essential to lay the sound foundations of the future Africa.
Several factors explain Africa’s backwardness in this area. Firstly, the limited resources available to national statistical institutions that rely too heavily on external funding for their operations. Also because these institutes are too often under political tutelage, leaving the suspicion of a possible lack of neutrality. The independence of these institutions is necessary, so that they themselves establish their research programs, regardless of political agendas and the electoral calendar.
Statistics mirror the reality of everyday life. But to make the right political and economic decisions, a distorted reality can be a big source of mistakes. Without reliable information, an efficient development policy is not possible. These statistics are essential for a good allocation of resources and a rigorous evaluation of public policies outcomes. For this reason, governments need to understand that investing in statistics is more than profitable because of the overall improvement in resource allocation.
Above all, beyond the economic imperative, African governments must provide good statistics available to their citizens. They improve transparency and accountability in public management. It is only in these conditions that citizens can judge the policies put in place by their government and thus vote in the most informed way.
More than ever, open data initiatives and data transparency must be a priority for our societies in order to structure the political debate. In the era of fake news, it is all the more imperative to fight rumors and lies by providing relevant and reliable data on the public space. This is how we will promote the development of participatory democracy and more peaceful societies.