Com­par­isons form a lens that Africans hide their eyes from

The Sunday Independent - - Features - Dr Pali Le­hohla is the for­mer Statis­ti­cian-Gen­eral of South Africa and the for­mer head of Sta­tis­tics South Africa.

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.

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