By James Hall
Analysis in brief: The ability of African countries to deliver competent social services to their populations is incrementally improving but has far to go against a background of widespread poverty, poor education and food insecurity.
The measures of Africa’s societal progress are on a gradual upward trend. While this trend is encouraging, much remains to be accomplished to ensure that all of Africa’s people acquire optimal education, food security, healthcare and other necessities of life. The Society quadrant is one of the four quadrants in which African data is divided in the 2019 edition of the Africa Country Benchmark Report (ACBR). The other three quadrants – Business, Economics and Politics – are all components used to make societies better; influencing standards of living, personal health, education and overall social welfare. How business communities, domestic economies and national governments are performing in their roles are ultimately assessed in how well citizens live.
One of the revelations of the ACBR 2019 is that the best guide to African development is not economic statistics but societal data. This latest ACBR analyses leading indicators and tabulates their performances in the Society quadrant to make a holistic determination about the true conditions of all nations in Africa. By comparison with other quadrants, a good economy may be irrelevant depending on the state of national welfare. Examples include the mineral wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the oil wealth of Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria, which fail to improve the lives of the people of those countries. Statistically, Libya may be Africa’s fastest-growing economy because their oil reserves are worth more on the world market, but this accounts for nothing in a country where life is made miserable and perilous by civil war.
By contrast, Mauritius is poised to become Africa’s first high-income country. Their government has invested in education and social welfare programmes, ensuring that the fruits of an expanding economy are equitably shared by all. Their government has also ensured that the requirements of an expanding economy, such as a healthy population of consumers and a trained workforce, are also met. Governments that truly wish to boost national prosperity must not solely seek foreign investors for their industrial sectors, but they must also invest in their peoples’ education and health.
Africa’s highest-scoring quadrant
Through averaging the five regional scores of Central, East, North, Southern and West Africa – each regional score coming from averaging the results of the countries within these regions, the continental score is calculated at 45.32 for the Society quadrant. For a continent historically plagued by societal woes like poor healthcare and inadequate education, that Africa scores highest in the ACBR Society quadrant remains worthy of note. However, the continental score of 45.32 is still poor and points to the distance yet to be travelled to meet Africans’ social welfare needs.
Of Africa’s social needs, education is the most pressing. Within the Society quadrant’s segments, the continental score for Education is the lowest, standing at 38.59 points. Education is the basis for raising performance in all other quadrants as a means to create skilled workers and entrepreneurs to support businesses and improve economies. It also creates informed and critical citizenry required for self-governance. While the interest of autocratic regimes has been to keep their citizens uneducated and dependent, the number of Africa’s autocratic governments is dwindling. In their place is a growing desire for meaningful education geared towards life in the 21st century.
Food Security is the continent’s second-lowest scoring segment within the Society quadrant, at 42.60 points. The annual shortages of food changes from country to country, depending on where crop-destroying conflict flares or when droughts hit. Only better land use management and the application of agricultural technology will secure Africa’s ability to reliably feed its people. Africa does possess this innate ability. Similarly, as demonstrated in Mauritius, Africa has the potential to accomplish better societal equality. A continental score of 47.13 points in the Equality segment shows this is not currently being achieved.
Continentally, the final two segments of Health and Sustainability score about equally: 48.67 for Health and 48.97 for Sustainability. Resources both local and international applied to, first, the AIDS epidemic and, now, to Ebola have lifted all health services. Improvement is still required, and this is coming through various technologies like drone delivery of medical supplies to inaccessible areas and the expansion of clinic systems. How well nations can sustain their social welfare programmes is also an area in need of enhancement. However, the groundwork seems to have been laid as reflected in the Sustainability segment presiding over the highest score in the Society quadrant.
Stable regions have better social welfare conditions
The longest life spans and greatest food security in Africa are enjoyed in those regions where conflict is lowest and democratic governmental institutions are strongest. While North Africa has experienced political upheavals, these upheavals have trended away from autocracy and towards democracy, despite setbacks in Egypt and Libya. Among Africans, North Africans live the longest due to better education and healthcare and more food security. North Africa’s score of 56.26 in the Society quadrant is also the highest regional score of any quadrant.
In contrast, East Africa scores significantly lower at 40.03 points. Autocracy in Djibouti, dictatorship in Eritrea, ongoing conflict in Somalia and civil war in South Sudan have negatively impacted the regional performance of delivering social services. Governance issues in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have also eroded social services delivery. Even Central Africa, which is the most conflict-prone African region encompassing a proportionately higher number of non-democratic governments, achieves a higher regional score, of 43.15 points, than East Africa.
West Africa’s economic growth is not equitably shared and has not boosted social welfare as might be hoped. This is apparent in a regional Society quadrant score of 44.65 points. Southern Africa, a relatively stable and prosperous region, scores 48.17 points, which is still significantly below North Africa. Political reforms in Angola and Mozambique are small but advancing, while Botswana and Namibia have backsliding economic growth that challenges those states’ ability to improve social service delivery. As mentioned before, national scores in the Society quadrant reflect the input of all other quadrants – Business, Economics and Politics – and the developments that they encompass. As these inputs improve, the result will lead to rising ACBR Society scores.
Find out more about ACBR here: https://www.inonafrica.com/africa-country-benchmark-report-acbr/
- Social indicators reflect the rise or fall of other indicators that support a society: business activities, economic performances and the conduct of governance.
- North Africa is the best performing region for social services.
- Education is the lowest scoring Society quadrant segment continentally, requiring urgent improvement to produce skilled workers for business, entrepreneurs and innovators to boost economies and an informed citizenry to improve governments.