Evaluate the real Africa

There’s no doubt that Africa is rising, growing at a rapid pace, and the need for investment grows with it. However, as Professor Ben Turok warned during the Evaluation Cooperation Group’s Spring 2014 meeting at the African Development Bank in Centurion, when we look at the broader impact of policies on the African continent, taking into context the different socio-economic and political factors of each country, it is important that we look at the real Africa and get our priorities right. In a previous issue, COVER did a feature on reinsurance in Africa, and a common theme that came to the fore was that Africa consists of many different, unique countries, and to treat Africa as one homogenous place will be to the detriment of the investor, insurer, and reinsurer.

The Evaluation Cooperation Group’s Spring 2014 meeting was hosted by the African Development Bank in Centurion from 29 to 30 April 2014. The ECG was established in 1996 by the leaders of multilateral development banks (MDBs) to conduct and promote “evaluation harmonisation” across MDBs.

The African Development Bank (ADB) is one of about 12 members of the ECG and Rakesh Nangia, director of the Operations Evaluation Department of the ADB, is the ECG Chair for 2014.

The ECG uses two tools to promote effective evaluation among MDBs: good practice standards and benchmarking studies to assess how ECG members apply good practice standards.

The ECG evaluates the operations of country strategy and programmes, policy-based lending, the private sector, the public sector, peer reviews, and technical assistance and cooperation.

Nangia said in his opening speech:

“It’s 20 years almost to the day that South Africa celebrates our first free elections. South Africa has one of the oldest and richest ministries of monetary evaluations. South Africa has led the way in so many different ways.” Nangia quoted Desmond Tutu: “South Africa is a rainbow nation – at the end of every rainbow is a pot of gold.” Our nation’s gold, he said, are people like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Ben Turok.

 

Prof Ben Turok speaks at the African Development Bank and urges evaluators to see the real Africa

Professor Ben Turok, Member of Parliament and the keynote speaker, said that evaluators need to consider the social and political context of a country in their findings. “We should not assume that all is well and then restrict ourselves to evaluating impact narrowly,” he said. “We need to look at the priorities of a country.”

Turok said when he was involved in the OECD evaluation conference in Ghana he was surrounded by technical systems analysts who paid little attention to the implementation process. “We should reflect on policy making – do we have the right priorities? And in the implementation process – are we doing the right things?”

South Africa is a rich country with all its resources, he said, but are we allocating resources in the best possible way? He questioned whether the Minster of Monetary Evaluation truly needs 200 staff members.

Turok said his remarks only pertain to the evaluation and monitoring of developing countries – and in South Africa, “we need an improvement plan”.

Turok made the plea for researchers and evaluators to focus on the real economy in South Africa – commodities, manufacturing, and infrastructure. “We have mineral wealth, but our manufacturing is small,” he said, with the result that our natural resources are processed by more developed countries. This “external exploitation” of South Africa’s wealth is “repeated across the continent”.

“Do not neglect the real economy,” he asked of the evaluators. He made the distinction between employment statistics and participation ratio. Whereas employment statistics will tell you how many people are employed (even if someone has a job he goes to once a week at minimum wage) the participation ratio is an “indicator of how many people are engaged in the economy” – so the quality of employment, the value it has to the individual and the economy.

“I live in a cosy, white suburb in Cape Town…two kilometres away is a township near a swamp, where shacks are built in the mud…it makes for an appalling situation. People work and survive there.”

Turok said sociologists use the term ‘relative depravation’ – the feeling of envy towards your neighbour – to describe the suffering observed here.

“Nonsense,” said Turok, “people are suffering because they are suffering.” People don’t protest and fling faeces because of some sociological idea, he said.

“The problems in South Africa are very real, not just statistical problems,” he said. Turok urged evaluators to study the real situation in South Africa. “It’s a new South Africa; let’s make it a better one, with your help.”

Annetjie Van Wynegaard