Comparisons form a lens that Africans hide their eyes from
AFTER every five years, countries the world over compile the International Comparisons Programme (ICP) to compare the final household and government expenditure on a thousand equivalent goods and services.
The programme measures real gross domestic product of countries based on purchasing power parities.
It is the only standard-bearer of what the relative sizes of countries are and forms the rock bed for informing industrialisation strategies and trade.
Yet this information is not used in Africa where it is needed most.
Bureaucrats and technocrats ignore it and jump from one policy tree to another without looking at it.
They find it difficult to do the light mapping out of what the available descriptive data may suggest.
Nobody in their right mind can argue against trade as an engine of growth.
It is a no-brainer that the world is agreed upon.
It is only when technocrats and bureaucrats fail to be expert in their work that Africa fails ceaselessly.
The reason is the lethal, lethargic and passionate aversion to the use of statistical evidence.
They hope for broad theories and political rhetoric that lacks specificities of the light that data sheds for action.
In South Africa, the closest we got to using the ICP data was to express disbelief and be long-faced when Nigeria was reported as the biggest economy in Africa in 2014.
I recall getting questioned with amazement on this and not on what ICP says about South Africa and Africa for prospects of industrialisation.
Last week I had the honour of attending the 61st Tourism Statistics Conference in Abuja, Nigeria, where I delivered a keynote address on “Tourism Statistics a Catalyst for Development”.
As fate would have it, I was also asked to facilitate the ministerial panel.
It was in this session that Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom became an ICP advocate.
I could not help but glow in my corner from his aptly captured remarks as he raised my hopes that at last the ICP would gain its rightful place on Agenda 2063.
He observed that the Nigerian cuisine was so varied and had a unique and inviting taste.
Nigerians are seen in South Africa and the world donning their overflowing and glamorous attire, but when you see this nation of 180 million all dressed in this attire, it is an amazing sight to a tourist’s eye.
Hanekom said they serve with a smile and as you pick up your merchandise they close the deal with a strong indigenous-toned “you are welcome” – and with that you surely have to be back.
What stuck in my mind about Hanekom’s observations was how Nigerians as a nation and the entirety of West Africa control the value chain of what they wear and wear it with pride.
They produce the cotton out of which they manufacture the cloth and process it further with tie and die, after which they use it to manufacture clothing.
One also cannot help but realise the effects of the Dutch East India Company, which still has a large market share of the batique – still manufactured in Holland and donned with pride in West Africa.
This is just like Lesotho, where the Basotho without exception don the acclaimed blankets without manufacturing them, while they in fact produce the wool for them.
The ICP data opens our African eyes and ears to realise what can easily be a lost dream. It provides comparative pricing schedules among the African countries on a thousand consumption products, from food, clothing and furniture to mobility, medicines and education.
Trade is a transaction of physical goods and services based on comparative advantage – the ICP is the lens that Africans have hidden their eyes from.
The ICP measures real gross domestic product of the countries based on purchasing power parities.