Poverty and a lack of individual rights has hindered social progress in Africa. However, some of the continent’s 54 countries have shown how to establish winning policies and succeed with national development by uplifting living standards and ensuring democratic rights.
Africa’s countries are as varied as their cultural and historic circumstances, as well as their environments and natural resources. All emerged from the colonial era encumbered by poverty, and all went in several directions to achieve social development. IOA’s 2017 Africa Country Benchmark Report (ACBR) assesses which African countries have succeeded in developing effective social welfares and can offer lessons to other developing African countries. The conflict between honouring traditional practices and achieving human rights requires compromise, with traditional authorities honoured with customary respect but citizens allowed to pursue their aspirations in business and politics unfettered by state constraints. Progressive social welfare policies result in improved conditions for all people in a country. Governments can pay for these programmes from revenues earned by well-performing economies, made possible by open, equitable societies where individuals are allowed to think, imagine and ultimately prosper.
The top five social welfare ‘takeaways’ from the 2017 ACBR were discerned by analysing data from the 34 international indexes and 30 key indicators that were incorporated into the survey. A holistic view of a country’s performance results clearly shows how economic and political factors work to the success or detriment of social progress. Out of this evaluation emerges some commonalities found in African counties that score highest in their people’s education, freedoms, health and safety.
Here are five important lessons learned from countries that perform well in the ACBR’s society section:
Lesson 1: Tying population growth to available resources
Countries that perform best in all ACBR sections, including economic, governance and social welfare, have confronted the problem that overpopulation presents to their limited natural resources and put into place population policies. While voluntary, so as not to encroach upon individual liberties, these programmes have been strongly backed by government education programmes and incentives. As a result, natural and state resources are more equitably shared in countries enjoying moderate population growth, while social inequities grow in countries with out of control population growth. Larger populations strain education and health systems and create competition for food supplies, leading to cost inflation and food scarcity. Any country’s destiny is reflected in their demographic, and societal sustainability is demonstrably achieved, according to ACBR analysis, in countries where population policies exist.
Lesson 2: The largest demographic, youth has enormous needs to be met
Tied to population growth is Africa’s tremendous expansion of the youth demographic. From healthcare, required for pre-natal needs and infant care, through education and finally employment, the youth has important needs. When these needs are met, a valuable pool of talent exists for nation building, health and educated and nurtures an eager group, wanting to contribute their ideas and labour. In countries where youth policies and programmes to support youth do not exist, societal dysfunction is manifest in large youth unemployment, rising crime, youth-led street protests and opportunities for terrorist groups to recruit from the ranks of idle, alienated young people.
Lesson 3: Gender equality is tied firmly to national development
Those African autocrats who do lip service to gender rights are exposed by the gap between accords their governments sign for women’s empowerment to look good at the UN and the absence of programmes or efforts to actually expand women’s rights and have women meaningfully participate in national affairs. Such countries are also exposed by low rankings in the ACBR societal indexes. Countries that recognise that empowering all their citizens opens a valuable source of intellectual contributors and workers do better on all society categories. Breaking cultural barriers that oppress women is an ongoing task in Africa, but the data shows that, when this is done, countries prosper.
Lesson 4: Education must be every society’s priority
African countries perform most poorly in technology in the ACBR’s economic indexes, demonstrating how the societal failure of poor education directly impacts other areas of national development. While all African governments profess to support education, educational standards are purposely low in countries where governments wish compliant, unthinking citizenries. However, countries that have the strongest societies — as measured by health, equality and other factors — are the best educated. Africa is growing more literate, and when critical thinking is applied to literacy, the result is pressure for governmental improvements and intellectual capital to boost business and economies. A cycle also evolves as more educated people demand higher educational standards for their offspring, thus raising social standards overall.
Lesson 5: A healthy population ensures national societal advancement
The tragedy of the Ebola epidemic that struck West Africa and the continental plague of the AIDS pandemic since the 1990s have resulted in one positive development measured in the ACBR societal indexes: expanded healthcare infrastructure. New clinics and hospitals built through international aid must be maintained and linked to new healthcare programmes, targeting infant and maternal mortality, in particular. In countries that focused on expanding sanitary conditions, life spans grow and citizens noticing that child death rates are diminishing are less likely to produce more offspring than they or their society can afford.
These five takeaways on positive societal trends originated with an analysis of 2017 ACBR’s indexes and represent the fascinating and valuable insights into Africa available in the new report.
In On Africa (www.inonafrica.com) was formed in 2007 with the goal of becoming the global authority on African affairs. Over the past decade, IOA has positioned itself as one of the top research firms in and focused on Africa, with an increasing presence across the continent and an ever-expanding list of international clients. IOA and its team of more than 300 expert consultants combine to provide its clients with decades of experience and expertise in a wide range of research and advisory-related areas. IOA also regularly publishes various Africa-focused reports and position papers.