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The G8, African Factivism and a Future of Extreme Opportunity - Not Extreme Poverty

Posted: 29/05/2013 09:35

Bono's much-tweeted TED talk launched the concept of 'factivism' and spotlighted Ghana, a West African country usually regarded as one of the continent's better managed and more successful "lions". The facts about Ghana's journey towards ending extreme poverty - and zeroing out aid - has much to teach all African citizens and their development friends overseas, especially as the Group of 8 leaders consider the complex interrelation of transparency tax and trade in mid - June, and African policy makers consider their positions ahead of the Millennium Development Goals being rewritten after the 2015 deadline.

How will Ghana spread growth uniformly to its citizens, while avoiding entrenched inequalities? How to reinvest natural resource revenues into transformational physical and human infrastructure, and not pervert into maldevelopment as too often in the past? What are the lessons in all this for the rest of Africa?

In 2007, Ghana took a turn for what statisticians call 'low middle-income status', meaning that average annual income started to quietly creep over $1,200 per capita. The number living in extreme poverty (defined as under $1.25 a day) has dropped from over 50% to under 27% in 20 years - and at that rate should plummet to zero by 2025. Extreme poverty data are often unreliable, but this positive trend is corroborated by other data on reductions in hunger, trends in family sizes, child mortality and so on. This trend is real. Ghana can take the extreme poverty rate to zero in ten years.

Zero - that is a number to remember. And rejoice over.

But it's too soon to hoot with joy. Ghana, like most African countries, still has to grapple with entrenched inequality and extreme poverty in some parts. Take northern Ghana and the savannah region for instance. There, nearly 60% of the people fall within the unfortunate extreme poverty bracket.

What is interesting is that Ghana now is in a position to develop an 'internal Aid' program. A new Savannah Accelerated Development Authority covers the poorer North and though it could do with more transparency and better management, at least it's a start. The program is uncannily similar to Aid from a rich country to a poor one, even using some of the same methodologies, but the Ghanaians are the ones in charge.

So how is Ghana making its money? Over the last decade and a half GDP has grown nine-fold. The domestic tax base has expanded dramatically in absolute terms: the current tax revenue amount of about $6.5 billion represents a fourfold increase in tax revenue over the decade, with oil revenues expected to further boost sums available.

Clearly, much depends on how effectively the government accounts for the use of these financial resources. All too often the focus is on corruption-prevention, and justifiably so. But it is also becoming clear that 'performance-accountability' is just as important. Officials who turn out to be square pegs in round holes may not steal the funds, but they can waste it on poorly thought-through or executed schemes and the results would be no different.

The good news is that there is an avalanche of innovations which are helping fight such corruption and inefficiency. For example the World Bank's Service Delivery Indicators help policy-makers and citizens precisely track resources into real results and should be more widely adopted and adapted throughout the continent. The Open Budget Index shows which budgets are open to citizens, and the Mo Ibrahim Governance Index allows citizens to see how their government fares against its peers. Such initiatives as Revenue Watch, Publish What You Pay, Ghana Integrity Initiative, the Public Interest Accountability Committee, are all empowering people and well intentioned policymakers.

These programs resonate with Africa-wide trends such as the African Peer Review Mechanism, and Africa 2.0 (www.africa2point0.org). Indeed ONE's DATA Report, released today, a publication associated with berating the G8 for not keeping aid promises, this year turns its forensic eye on African leaders promises to the poor. It finds that $243bn dollars more will be available for health and agriculture and education between 2013-2015 if African leaders keep their promises. It's a great fact for factivists: by far the main source of money promised for African development is African.

Often Ghana is leading the pack in providing empowering facts to the 'informed masses' (whom Bono dubs "factivists") as well as the technocratic elite. These innovations promise actual cultural change. That means going beyond formal educational systems and encouraging a 'climate of ideas' with vibrant debate in the media and between Ghanaian think tanks. Ultimately these innovations help strengthen what we can call a country's "ultrastructure". These are the underlying systems that ensure that resources (whether its aid, credit, or commodity revenues) can be turned into results - (roads, rail, ports, dams, energy production, shopping malls, schools, clinics) - which are accessible, equitable and ultimately transformational for all citizens and not just the urban elite.

As all this happens we won't just be helping people eke out a life at a mere $1.26 a day. Once out of extreme poverty people don't stop there - they push forth to seek out more economic opportunity. As a result African factivists describing this future must teach their friends around the world the language not just of "poverty elimination" but of "opportunity maximisation".

Through the G8 we will hear calls for a Transparency Revolution. Based on Ghana's experience, such calls can only be made meaningful through political and financial investment into transparency, accountability, good ol' high quality data, and those organs of government, civil society and the media which share these statistics with citizens. Bono's factivism isn't some nerdy subculture. Factivists are taking the important debates of our time from margins to mainstream, and thereby unleashing the ultrastructure that will ultimately help Ghanaian and other African citizens drive towards the end of extreme poverty in Africa - and the arrival of an age of extreme opportunity for all.

 
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