The African Social Development Index: Measuring Human Exclusion for Structural Transformation

Declan Magero, co-associate of Jaslika Consulting, attended the Partners’ Briefing on the African Social Development Index (ASDI) on January 23rd 2017. The meeting was co-organized by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the Rockefeller Foundation, Africa Office. The main objectives of the meeting were to present the key findings of the ASDI and share lessons learnt and insights on the impact of the project. The meeting also sought to build collaborations around the initiative in order to strengthen support for the implementation of the SDG and the African Union 2063 development agenda.

The ASDI report is in essence a tool for assessing inclusive development in Africa. African countries have in recent years experienced unprecedented economic growth and shown resilience to the global downturn affecting most of the world’s economies. Growth on the continent has averaged over 5 per cent, with some countries posting 7–11 per cent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) in recent years. However, the continent, which is still fraught with vertical and horizontal inequalities caused by differences in income, ethnicity, gender, age and disability, is yet to transform its economies and achieve the level of social development registered in other regions. More and more young people are finding it increasingly difficult to find employment. At the same time, access to basic social services remains elusive to many people in the continent. The main argument is that Africa has for a long time focused on economic growth, with the expectation that improvements in social development would follow. Human and financial constraints have led to huge capacity gaps. At the same time, limited social protection in many countries has exacerbated the exclusion of the poorest and most marginalized population groups. These groups are also more vulnerable to external shocks, such as food insecurity and climate change. This has reduced their productive capacities, pushing them further into poverty and exclusion. 

Over the past decade, progress towards more inclusive development in Africa has been the expectation rather than the norm. Some countries, such as Botswana and Mauritius, have succeeded in translating economic development into more integrated and inclusive societies. In others, a number of factors, including food insecurity, population displacement, armed conflict and other disruptions, have led to increased marginalization of individuals and groups in society. This is also true of countries already undergoing social progress. Although Africa is among the fastest growing regions, meeting the needs of its most vulnerable and excluded population groups remains its greatest challenge. 

Exclusion is a multidimensional phenomenon, difficult to define without a clear framework on the issues of human exclusion to be assessed and the manner in which to do that. It is acknowledged that, despite strong economic growth, an “excluded” society runs the risk of deterring human and social development. Despite its sustained economic growth, Africa is unable to ensure inclusive and equitable distribution of its benefits across its populations. This state of affairs increases exposure to economic volatility and vulnerability to external shocks, particularly for the poorest population groups. It is critical to ensure that these groups assume their active role in the development process, so as to accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable growth.

The new paradigm for inclusive development is based on the premise that exclusion can have different manifestations at different stages of a person’s life. This is built on the assumption that: the risk of being excluded is not static but rather dynamic, and; that countries need to define and implement policies that address the various dimensions and manifestations of exclusion to help reduce particular vulnerabilities faced by individuals in a lifetime. 

The first vulnerability that an individual can face in their lifetime is survival, which also depends on what occurs from conception through pregnancy. A child’s survival during the first critical 28 days of life depends on the provision of adequate health care and nutritional requirements, which can have major impacts on its physical and cognitive development during the first years of life. Exclusion can be experienced during the formative years, age 6 to 14, depriving an individual access to basic quality education. Exclusion is also experienced from age 15 to 25 when one is entering the labour market, denying one access of productive employment. An individual can also face exclusion between ages 25 to 60 years which is the period of productive life depriving one the opportunity to maintain a family out of poverty. Finally exclusion can occur in old age from age 60 depriving one from living a decent life in advanced age. Preliminary results of the African Social Development Index in Northern, Eastern, and Southern Africa have pointed to the need for African countries to refocus their development agenda in order to address human exclusion more effectively and deal with its underlying as well as structural causes.