Even in the best financial times, budgets for development aid are hardly overflowing. Government leaders and donors have to make hard decisions about where to focus their limited resources. How do you decide which countries should get low-cost loans or cheaper vaccines, and which can afford to fund their own development programs?
Traditionally, one of the guiding factors has been per-capita Gross Domestic Product – the value of goods and services produced by a country in a year divided by the country’s population.
Yet there are problems with GDP as a statistic. It may be very inaccurate in the poorest countries. These problems are not just a concern for policymakers or hardcore people like me who read lots of World Bank reports. They are relevant for anyone who wants to use statistics to make the case for helping the world’s poorest people. The question of how we measure growth and improvements in people’s lives—and how we know what works—is very important.
I’ve long believed that GDP understates growth even in rich countries, where its measurement is quite sophisticated. This is because it’s so difficult to compare the value of baskets of goods across different time periods. In the U.S. for example, a set of encyclopedias in 1960 was expensive but held great value for families with studious kids. (I can speak from experience, having spent many hours with the World Book encyclopedias my parents bought for my sisters and me.) Now, thanks to the Internet, kids have access to far more information for free. How do you factor that into GDP? It’s very difficult.
The challenges with calculating GDP are particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa, where weak national statistics offices and historical biases muddy the clarity of crucial measurements. Bothered by what he saw as problems in Zambia’s national statistics, Morten Jerven, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University, spent four years digging into how African nations get their statistics and the challenges they face in turning them into GDP estimates. He details his findings in a new book, Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled By African Development Statistics and What To Do About It, which makes a strong case that a lot of GDP measurements we thought were accurate are far from it.
Jerven notes that many countries in the region have trouble measuring the size of their relatively large subsistence economies and unrecorded economic activity. How do you account for the production of a farmer who grows and eats his own food? If subsistence farming is systematically underestimated, then as an economy moves out of subsistence, some of the apparent growth may be just a shift to something that is easier to capture with statistics.
There are other problems with GDP statistics for poor countries. For example, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa don’t update their reporting often enough, so their GDP numbers may miss large and fast-growing sectors of the economy, like cell phones. A few years ago, Ghana updated its reporting and its GDP jumped by 60 percent. But many people didn’t understand this was just a statistical anomaly, rather than an actual change in the standard of living there.
In addition, there are several ways to calculate GDP, and they can produce wildly different results. Jerven mentions three in particular: the World Development Indicators, which are published by the World Bank and by far the most commonly used dataset; the Penn World Table, released by the University of Pennsylvania; and the Maddison tables, published by the University of Groningen and based on work by the late economist Angus Maddison.
These groups use the same basic data as input, but they modify it in different ways to account for inflation and other factors. As a result, their rankings of different countries’ economies can vary widely. Liberia’s GDP ranks it as either 2nd poorest, 7th poorest, or 22nd poorest in Sub-Saharan Africa, depending on which source you consult. I have reproduced one of Jerven’s tables to show you three of the most striking examples.
It’s not just the relative rankings that differ. Sometimes one source will show a country growing several percentage points, and another source will show it shrinking over the same time period.
Jerven uses all these discrepancies to argue that we can’t be certain whether one poor country’s GDP is higher than another’s, and that we shouldn’t use GDP alone to make judgments about which economic policies lead to growth.
Does that mean that we don’t know anything about what works in development and what doesn’t?
Not at all. For years, researchers have used techniques like periodic household surveys to collect data. In health, a survey called the Demographic and Health Survey is done regularly to determine things like childhood and maternal death rates. Although they aren’t perfect, these methods aren’t susceptible to the same problems as GDP. Economists are also using new techniques like satellite mapping of light sources to inform their estimates of economic growth.
There are other ways to measure overall living standards in a country. While they aren’t perfect either, they do give us additional ways to understand poverty. One called the Human Development Index uses health and education statistics in addition to GDP. Another, the Multidimensional Poverty Index, uses ten indicators, including nutrition, sanitation, and access to cooking fuel and water. A measure called Purchasing Power Parity looks at how much it would cost to buy the same basket of goods and services in different countries, which helps economists adjust GDP to get better insight into living standards.
Yet it is clear to me that we need to put greater resources into getting basic GDP numbers right. As Jerven argues, national statistics offices across Africa need more support so they can obtain and report more timely and accurate data. Donor governments and international organizations such as the World Bank need to do more to help African nations produce a clearer picture of their economies. And African policymakers need to be more consistent about demanding better statistics and using them to inform decisions.
I’m a big advocate for investing in health and development around the world. The better tools we have for measuring progress, the more we can ensure those investments are reaching the people who need them the most.
Bill Gates is the former chairman of Microsoft, and founder of Bill Gates Foundation. He is the richest man in the world.
Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will meet with national, state and local government officials and traditional leaders this week to discuss the ongoing campaign to end polio in Nigeria. Mr. Gates will be accompanied by the foundation’s chief executive officer Jeff Raikes.
The agenda for the visit is focused on efforts to end polio and strengthen immunization against other vaccine-preventable diseases, and to follow up on the Abuja Commitments to Polio Eradication. In February 2009, Nigeria’s executive governors, federal government and local government area chairmen publicly committed themselves to reach at least 90 percent of children with polio vaccine, with the goal of wiping out polio from the country.“Nigeria has achieved important success with polio over recent years and we are confident it can finish the job,” said Mr. Gates. “However, success will depend on leaders at every level redoubling their efforts to meet the Abuja Commitments and to ensure that every Nigerian child is protected from polio now and always.”
From 2009 to 2010, Nigeria’s commitment to polio eradication and immunization was at an all-time high. During this time, polio cases fell by 95 percent and fewer children than ever were paralyzed by polio. In 2011, attention to polio waned, contributing to an increasing gap in immunity. Polio has now re-emerged as a serious threat to children’s health, with 30 polio cases reported in six states – Borno, Jigawa, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto and Yobe. During this visit, Mr. Gates will hold a number of meetings in Abuja, including a meeting with WHO, UNICEF and UN officials to express his sincere condolences to those families and friends who lost loved ones in last month’s bombing of the UN building. Mr. Gates also will observe the current Immunization Plus Days campaign and will meet with state and traditional leaders to better understand the challenges they are facing in prioritizing polio efforts and strengthening routine immunization. In addition, Mr. Gates will use his visit to discuss ways to help Nigeria tackle broader health priorities as well as meet with people working to improve agriculture in the country.
The Gates Foundation is deeply engaged in Africa, and its central goal is to ensure Africans benefit from life-saving and life-enhancing discoveries that have the potential to improve and save millions of lives. The foundation is involved in a wide range of projects, including work on HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria; mother and child health; farming and financial services; and nutrition and sanitation.
Africa needs to progress by any means necessary
Ideas have consequences and Ideas are precursors of actions. The idea-packed, sizzling debate on Africa between Bill Gates, co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Matt Ridley the author of new book, "The Rational Optimist," should be review by any serious African politician, bureaucrat or any person who has interest in Africa. On the pages of America’s Wall Street Journal both men duke it out on how to contribute and accelerate Africa’s progress in 21st century. It was interesting to see that there are individuals that really care about the welfare and wellbeing of Africa while few African leaders were busy abusing and looting the continent. Africa has made an enormous progress from being called the ‘Dark continent’ to an emerging democratic and enterprising landscape but her needs are numerous. A giant leap is what Africa needs to make a heightened quantifiable dent on poverty and to greatly ameliorate quality of life. The 21st century has been called the African century and she must take the bull by its horn to actualize it.
Africa has a bright economic outlook; free enterprise and democracy are taking hold in the continent. “Economic growth in Africa was expected to rise to 5% this year and could reach 7% in 2011, according to African Development Bank (AfDB) president Donald Kaberuka. Thus, as the global financial crisis abated and demand for commodities began to increase, Kaberuka said that Africa's economy was expected to grow between 4,5% and 5% this year, with the expansion likely to accelerate to 6,5% or 7% in 2011. South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya were highlighted as the three countries expected to help spur Africa's recovery on the back of improved global demand.” Nigeria, the second largest economy in Africa has the annual growth rate of 7.3% and expected to grow up to 10% in 2011.
On the pages of America's flagship newspaper on capitalism - The Wall Street Journal, Bill Gates and Matt Ridley showed genuine interest on how to improve Africa’s existential problems by either utilizing aid or unbridle capitalism. African problems at the dawn of 21st century are littered across the continent. The myriads problems stems from economic inadequacy of the second largest continent; ranging from AIDS to perennial poverty. Africa has a great potential; Africa is natural resources-rich, the soil is fertile and the weather for the moment is terrific, the emergence of global warming notwithstanding. But in spite of African natural and fledging human capital, together with the recent affirmative economic indices the continent has not realized her potential. In fact, Africa still has a long way before she will get to the promise land. Therefore this debate by these gentlemen is significant to Africa.
The essential thesis of Matt Ridley’s "The Rational Optimist,” on Africa is that "Aid doesn't work, hasn't worked and won't work,” and Africa needs trade and free enterprise. While Bill Gates essentially maintains that for the moment Africa needs aid. Both men are essentially right – Africa needs both trade and aid.
Bill Gates commented in his piece that, “In discussing Africa, Mr. Ridley relies on critics who say, essentially, "Aid doesn't work, hasn't worked and won't work." He cites studies, for instance, that show a lack of short-term economic benefit from aid, but he ignores the fact that health improvements, driven by aid, have been a major factor in slowing population growth, which has proven, in turn, to be critical to long-term economic growth. I may be biased toward aid because I spend my money on it and meet with lots of people who are alive because of it, but even if that were not the case, I would not be persuaded by such incomplete analysis.”
Photo Courtesy: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Source: “The 50 Most Generous American” Business Week
The most important point to be made crystal clear is that aid does work when it is judiciously administered and free of governmental red tape. But the way aid is administered is quite troubling, because so many strings are attached to the western aid given to African countries. By giving the aid directly from government to government opens door to corruption and manipulation of the African governments. Western governments can learn a lot from Bill and Melinda foundation that gives targeted aid to institution that really needs it, thereby curtailing corruption and bureaucratic red tape.
But at same time aid has its limitation on moving Africa forward. Africa needs aid, trade and debt remission to move forward and to savlage poor-development stricken continent. Of the $44 billion of official development aid given to Africa in 2008, majority of aid went to the donors through compulsory trade, servicing of foreign debt and bureaucratic shenanigans.
Bill Gates has been a great helping hand to the continent and his presence has been felt. With Bill and Melinda foundation, millions of dollars has been given to institutions in Africa to improve health mostly in AIDS and malaria patients. As for Mitt Ridley his contribution to the African debate cannot be easily write-off or devalued for with his pen he has summoned serious philanthropists including Bill Gates to weigh-in on the best ways to help the suffering masses of Africa.
But in reality both of these gentlemen have good ideas and Africa cannot take one direction and forgone another. The continent problem is circumventing therefore its solution should be comprehensive. Africa needs trade, aid and big ideas. All these are consistent and are not mutually exclusive; they can all co-exist for greater good of Africa.
Only one thing lacking in the debate is the absence of African participation. There are no African policy makers and bureaucrats participating on the pages of the Wall Street Journal. No matter how compassionate and passionate debates on Africa become, immediate stakeholders who are the inhabitants must be involved. In the problems of their continent, Africans must take the lead. No amount of help from outside will do the job Africans must do for themselves. That does not implies that Africa will be abandon to do the job alone and African friends including philanthropist Bill Gates should be acknowledged by Matt Ridley for his invaluable aid to Africa.
When Matt Ridley writes, “I am arguing that we should worry about real problems, including Africa's plight, but that we should do so in the knowledge that we have solved many such problems before and can do so again.” Ridley is quite carried away by thinking “we” are the people to save Africa. Ridley must understand that every continent has its own problems and Africa has men and women who can solve her problems. Only thing Africa needs is a logical helping hand to correct present and past injustices. And Bill Gates is a true friend of Africa who understood that healthy Africa is precursor for a wealthy Africa.
The most important question must be asked, what does Africa really needs? To answer the question, we must move beyond the limited scope of the discussion and expand the dialogue into the future of Africa. Africans have intelligent men and women of goodwill that can work with Bill gates and with Western governments to permanently improve African lots. Africa must take the lead by displaying intrinsic initiatives in order to move forward.
Beyond aid and debt remission, what does Africa really needs?
Empowerment to foster Freedom and Liberty:
Africans must live in the system of government that encourages freedom and justice. The respect for fundamental human rights must be instituted and adhered to; an environment that provides self-help, self-improvement and self-innovation must be encouraged. Only freedom can make these things possible and make free enterprise a reality, so that free people can create wealth and advance human dignity.
The West must encourage and support governance that accommodates checks and balances in Africa. This will in turn provide accountability and respect for the populace. What Africa needs mostly include, elimination of dictators and socialist regimes, establishment of virile/free political platform and economy, rule of law and respect for individual rights. All these things do border on fundamental issues which foreign aid alone cannot redress. Until these issues are properly put right, the story of the optimum utilization of these billions of dollars from foreign aid will always remain a mirage.
The responsibility of fighting corruption is too complex and gigantic to be left for one party. Both Africa and West must partake in the fight against corruption. The West must enact banking laws that will fish out bankers that accept laundered money and tainted wealth from corrupt African leaders and bureaucrats. Ill-gotten wealth must be returned to Africa without much ado, while the culprits must be exposed and prosecuted.
The West must work together with African governments on the war against corruption and bribery. Corporations and Transnational companies operating in Africa must not induce politicians and bureaucrats by bribes in their quest for contracts.
“African Union estimates that the continent loses as much as $148 billion a year to corruption. This money is rarely invested in Africa but finds its way into the international banking system and often into western banks. The proceeds of corrupt practices in Africa, (which the African experts group recommended in 2002 should be classified as a ‘crime against humanity’ because of its impact on ordinary people), are often laundered and made respectable by some of the most well known banks in the City of London or the discreet personal bankers of Geneva and Zurich."
Elimination of wars and Promotion of Peace and conflict resolutions:
The West can work with African union in finding solutions to the cessation of conflicts and wars. Wars (especially internal strife) are ubiquitous in the continent. Some African governments and warmongers commit their resources to executing endless wars. The West must frown upon the sell of arms to these parties by checkmating their native’s arms industries.
Fair and Balance Trade:
The West must encourage fair and equitable trade with Africa. The giving of aid must not be the only means to defeat poverty and alleviate quality of life in Africa. The promotion of trade can be possible when concessions are made to infant industries in Africa. The West can improve technological developments by investing in areas of science and technology that can sharpen the technical-know-how in the continent. The West must stand for fair trade at the World trade organization by conscientiously removing agricultural subsidies given to their own agricultural sectors that adversely affect the traffic of commodities from Africa. Only trade can be the panacea to poverty in Africa, this by and large booster a higher GDP and a decent standard of living.
Africa must embark on the area of trade specialization where she has the greatest comparative advantage. It seems that agriculture is the best possible for Africa. The Western World must take the initiative of reducing trade tariffs and removal of agricultural subsidies. By this, developing nations and poor countries especially in Africa can participate and compete favorably with the West. In practice, free trade must be made to work for every nation. World trade Organization must implement trade policies that are doable, workable and all-inclusive. Foreign aid is good and dandy, though on the contrary, history has always proven that aid has slightly or insignificantly improvement on recipient nations nor ameliorate the well-beings of the fabric of the needy class at the long run. Foreign aid can be given via reduction in prices of medicine, pharmaceutical equipment and of essential commodities needed for survival in the less technological nations. We cannot downplay the role of foreign aid when fully utilized, when it goes to the required projects that ought to impact the needy positively. But Africa core need is beyond these immediate measures.
Africa needs and appreciates aid given to her but Africans most realize one thing, her destiny and future is in her hands.
Mr. Emeka Chiakwelu is the Principal Policy Strategist at Afripol. Africa Political & Economic Strategic Center (AFRIPOL) is foremost a public policy center whose fundamental objective is to broaden the parameters of public policy debates in Africa. To advocate, promote and encourage free enterprise, democracy, sustainable green environment, human rights, conflict resolutions, transparency and probity in Africa.
Polio has been identified as one of the most damaging diseases which can snatch away a child’s physical, mental and emotional stimulus to lead a normal, healthy and happy life. This is why; countries across the world have been working together closely to develop a strong Public Health Campaign for complete and total polio eradication since 1988. In most parts of the world, particularly the western nations, the devastating complication of polio is rarely seen today. Even when poliovirus infection occurs in these areas it is the least harmful strain of poliovirus. In addition, there is adequate vaccine to protect against such poliovirus infection. In contrast, less developed countries including Nigeria, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt, the strain of poliovirus is the wild harmful type. In countries such as Nigeria, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt, thousands of innocent children have been crippled for life due to the transmission of the wild polio virus (Paralytic poliovirus). The strain of poliovirus often may lead to the complications of temporary or permanent muscle weakness, paralysis, disability, and deformities of the hips, ankles and feet. In some cases, the deformities caused by poliovirus infection can be reduced with surgery and physical therapy. Such expensive and intense treatments are not readily available in developing nations where polio is still endemic. As a result, most persons who survive death from polio often live with severe disabilities and low productive lives to even support their families. However, proper and timely immunization campaigns, however, especially in India have helped in reducing and controlling the spread of this life changing disease. Even though all it takes is to vaccinate each and every child under five with the polio vaccine to achieve global polio eradication, this has not been the case especially in Nigeria due to lack of funds and disjointed running of the immunization campaign. In the recent past, however, Nigeria has shown evidence of a reduction in polio cases thanks to the selfless and commendable work done by the ‘Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’, a joint venture by Microsoft Founder, Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates. In a meeting recently, the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan publicly expressed his gratitude for the outstanding work done by Bill Gates and his wife in delivering better healthcare services not just in Nigeria but all over the world. He further admired the contributions made by them both in terms of time and money which has resulted in a drop in the number of polio cases from couple of hundreds in 2009 to just a about three cases this year. Today, Northern Nigeria has emerged as the only place in the world that has seen so much progress in its goal towards polio reduction and subsequent polio eradication in such a short span of time. Author: G. Stanley Okoye, M.D., Ph.D. , Chief Medical Correspondent, Africa Political and Economic Strategic Center (Afripol) and St. Jude Medical Missions (
Polio has been identified as one of the most damaging diseases which can snatch away a child’s physical, mental and emotional stimulus to lead a normal, healthy and happy life. This is why; countries across the world have been working together closely to develop a strong Public Health Campaign for complete and total polio eradication since 1988. In most parts of the world, particularly the western nations, the devastating complication of polio is rarely seen today. Even when poliovirus infection occurs in these areas it is the least harmful strain of poliovirus. In addition, there is adequate vaccine to protect against such poliovirus infection. In contrast, less developed countries including Nigeria, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt, the strain of poliovirus is the wild harmful type.
In countries such as Nigeria, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt, thousands of innocent children have been crippled for life due to the transmission of the wild polio virus (Paralytic poliovirus). The strain of poliovirus often may lead to the complications of temporary or permanent muscle weakness, paralysis, disability, and deformities of the hips, ankles and feet. In some cases, the deformities caused by poliovirus infection can be reduced with surgery and physical therapy. Such expensive and intense treatments are not readily available in developing nations where polio is still endemic. As a result, most persons who survive death from polio often live with severe disabilities and low productive lives to even support their families. However, proper and timely immunization campaigns, however, especially in India have helped in reducing and controlling the spread of this life changing disease.
Even though all it takes is to vaccinate each and every child under five with the polio vaccine to achieve global polio eradication, this has not been the case especially in Nigeria due to lack of funds and disjointed running of the immunization campaign. In the recent past, however, Nigeria has shown evidence of a reduction in polio cases thanks to the selfless and commendable work done by the ‘Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’, a joint venture by Microsoft Founder, Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates.
In a meeting recently, the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan publicly expressed his gratitude for the outstanding work done by Bill Gates and his wife in delivering better healthcare services not just in Nigeria but all over the world. He further admired the contributions made by them both in terms of time and money which has resulted in a drop in the number of polio cases from couple of hundreds in 2009 to just a about three cases this year.
Today, Northern Nigeria has emerged as the only place in the world that has seen so much progress in its goal towards polio reduction and subsequent polio eradication in such a short span of time.