How Africa data gaps fuel poor governance: report

Friday February 02 2024

Data plays a critical role in informing strategy and policymaking by enabling baselines, benchmarks and targets to be set. ILLUSTRATION | SHUTTERSTOCK


Lack of data in critical sectors in Africa is fuelling bad governance on the continent, according to a new study that highlights the importance of research in planning for the future.

That means most countries on the continent are flying blind into the future because they lack critical data for setting public policy, such as population censuses and birth and death registration.

This week, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation's (MIF) IIAG Series 2023 Report focused on data and governance. Its new report, The Power of Data for Governance: Closing Data Gaps to Accelerate Africa's Transformation, released on January 29 in Accra, Ghana, revealed appalling data gaps.  

For example, only three African countries have a death registration system that records at least 90 percent of deaths that occur.

In 14 African countries, the last population census was conducted before 2010, meaning that all planning in recent years has been based on estimates.

The UN's Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 calls for the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030. But if you don't know how many mouths need food, you can't plan how much to import or even grow.


Only five African countries have data on the proportion of the population living below the international poverty line for the period 2019-2022.

“Without data, we are driving blind policies that are misdirected and progress on the road to development is stunted. We must act urgently to close the data gap in Africa if we genuinely want to leave no one behind,” said Mo Ibrahim, founder and chairman of the Foundation.

“Data is key to achieving both the AU's Agenda 2063 and the UN SDGs. I have long been thinking that what the UN Agenda 2030 should have begun with is an SDG 0 – Sound Data for Governance.”

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As of April 2023, only 10 African countries, accounting for 19.6 per cent of the continent's population, have a birth registration system that registers at least 90 per cent of births.

They are Algeria, Botswana, Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Morocco, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Tunisia.

While Algeria, Botswana and Tunisia have the highest birth registration completeness on the continent – 100 per cent – Ethiopia has the lowest at 3 per cent.

The report reveals that in six African countries, accounting for 20.4 per cent of the continent's population, less than 30 per cent of births are registered. The six countries are Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, Niger, Tanzania and Zambia.

Eritrea and Somalia have no data on the completeness of birth registration as of April 2023.

Good data

The Power of Data for Governance report highlights the role of good data in driving progress, assessing government performance, setting policy priorities and ensuring trust in government.

Data plays a critical role in informing strategy and policymaking by enabling baselines, benchmarks and targets to be set, allowing governments to monitor and evaluate policies and commitments.

Data also enables governments to improve the design, delivery and effectiveness of public services. It is essential to ensure that government policies take into account the most vulnerable groups and individuals and leave no one behind.

Read: How Africa states' indebtedness, collapsing currencies could be fixed

The report highlights the strong link between quality data and effective governance.

“Without sound data, governments drive blind and there can be no real progress towards development,” said Mo Ibrahim.

Even in areas where progress has been made, critical governance data gaps remain on issues such as health structures, the informal economy, the environment, violence against women, child labour, and illicit financial flows.

Data underfunding remains a serious challenge globally, with statistics receiving only 0.34 per cent of total Official Development Assistance (ODA).

In Africa, the ODA received for data and statistics has nearly halved between 2018 and 2021.

While statistical capacity has improved across the continent in recent decades, it remains low compared to other world regions and is hindered by several challenges, such as insufficient capacity in African National Statistical Offices (NSOs) and low levels of data literacy.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the economic potential of open data for Africa could equate to roughly 1-2 per cent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Vital statistics

For example, the data required for African countries to measure progress towards the SDGs and Agenda 2063 is unprecedented in both scope and granularity.

According to the report, Africa still has the lowest availability of vital statistics of any world region.

An efficient, routine civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) system links relevant data from the civil registry and health information system to produce vital statistics.

However, many African countries lack a well-maintained, effective civil registration and vital statistics system, yet everyone benefits from the CRVS system as it is the best source of national vital statistics and the basis for proof of identity.

“Even though CRVS Civil Registration systems are the building blocks that provide governments with critical information to develop policies and provide services, Africa is still the world region with the lowest availability of reliable, up-to-date, and continuous vital statistics,” the report reads.

Less than half of African countries (26) have data on the completeness of death registration as of April 2023.

“During the pandemic, a variety of excess mortality models claimed that the continent’s low mortality figures, lower than in any other world region, dramatically under-represented the true impact of Covid-19,” the report reveals.

Only three African countries, accounting for 7.8 per cent of the continent's population, have a death registration system that records at least 90 per cent of deaths that occur. These are Egypt, Mauritius and the Seychelles.

Four African countries, representing 5.0 per cent of the continent's population, have a death registration system that records less than 10 per cent of deaths that occur. These are Guinea, Malawi, Niger and South Sudan.

Mauritius has the highest completeness of death registration on the continent – 100 per cent – and Guinea the lowest at 2 per cent.

Sub-Saharan Africa

In addition, 850 million people around the world have no official identity documents – most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

A key finding of the Ibrahim Mo report is that among adults living in low-income countries (LICs), 46 per cent say they do not have an ID because of documentation requirements, 44 per cent because of distance to registration points and 40 per cent because of the prohibitive cost of obtaining one.

Globally, however, around one in three adults without an ID reported difficulties accessing financial services, receiving financial assistance from the government, applying for a job or voting in elections.

The status of civil registration in Africa shows that there is a need for more initiatives to engage more citizens in civil registration and vital statistics systems.

Such initiatives could include more awareness campaigns to educate citizens on the importance and relevance of registering deaths and births, and reducing the cost of registering deaths and births.

It also includes the digitalisation of the registration process for efficiency and the introduction of more registration centres in public hospitals to ensure that more people are registered in the different registration systems available at national level.

According to Open Data Inventory (ODIN) 2022/23 by Open Data Watch, most African countries have significant data gaps in both the coverage and openness of government data.

The average coverage score for all African countries was 39 (out of 100), compared to a global coverage score of 47.

The average African data openness score was 41, compared to a global openness score of 53.