ACEIR sets sights on development goals

04 Jun 2019
Image: United Nations
04 Jun 2019

The potential contribution of the ARUA Centre of Excellence for Inequality Research (ACEIR) to evidence that will inform Africa’s progress towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals has received a substantial boost. This comes as ACEIR was invited to submit a multi-million pound funding proposal to support capacity building and partnerships as one of the 13 centres of excellence of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).

The funding is made available through ARUA’s partnership with the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), which will channel a total of £22.8 million to the ARUA centres. The ARUA-UKRI GCRF partnership was set up in August last year with the aim to address the SDGs, strengthen Africa-United Kingdom research collaborations, and enhance research capacity across the African and UK research communities.

African inequality placed centre stage

Inequality has emerged as the social challenge of the decade, explains ACEIR director Prof. Murray Leibbrandt, who heads the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town where the ACEIR hub is located: “While the available international evidence suggests that inequality between countries has fallen in the last quarter of the 20th century, the average inequality within countries has increased since the beginning of the new century."

"Africa is the most unequal continent, but the regional picture is complex and often obscured by problems with unreliable and non-comparable data, both over time and across countries.”

ACEIR was launched in May 2018 to address these analytical, empirical and data needs with the aim of assisting policy interventions and civil society action that can turn the tide against inequality. Speaking at the launch workshop, Prof. Ernest Aryeetey, secretary-general of ARUA, said ACEIR was one of the Alliance’s most advanced centres of excellence and he believed that it would provide the direction for its other centres. The themes of the 13 centres of excellence all map onto the SDGs, or aspects of them.

ACEIR currently comprises three nodes – based at the universities of Ghana, Legon; Nairobi; and Cape Town respectively. A partnership with the Université de Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire, and a possible partnership with the University of Ethiopia are extending ARUA’s reach across the continent.

The pending funding proposal to UKRI can boost ACEIR’s capacity building across the hub-and-spoke model with up to £600 000 over three years to support activities for researchers, workshops, networking and interactions with research projects.

In the short term, work is however well underway with the support from the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) to advance the analysis of African inequality and policy discussions on strategies to overcome inequality on the continent through a series of country-level engagements. Prof. Damiano Manda, who leads the Kenyan node, points out the value for policymakers as the ACEIR research results “can be used to simulate various policy reforms to establish their effects on inequality”.

Research tools with potential for policy engagement

Currently underway is the production of a report that, based on existing literature, takes stock of the state of discussions on inequality in Africa. The paper aims to provide a conceptual framework on African specificities, recognising country heterogeneity and giving it context. It will also draw on the country teams’ country diagnostics to give insight into the commonalities and differences between the experiences of the participating countries (Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, and South Africa).

Given countries’ increased focus on the SDGs as they begin to report on progress to the United Nations, one of ACEIR’s objectives is to ensure that Africa is included in the international measurements.

ACEIR’s work is given structure and impetus through the development of a diagnostic tool that will be piloted in the node countries.

The diagnostic tool will consist of a thorough analysis of the various inequalities in a given country which will help its government to identify the priorities and policy options to reduce the inequalities. A handbook has been drafted to build the diagnostic tool; it sets up a common base which will allow country comparisons and, to extend its use and improve accountability, will be backed by a central data hub and strong data centres in each partner country to facilitate further inequality analysis.

The country diagnostics will be published as reports which each give an overview of the inequality within a country, across all relevant dimensions, for a given time and over time. It will also summarise the main policies passed or in place that could impact on inequalities. Each country will use their diagnostic as a platform for policy engagements on strategies to overcome inequality; to stimulate national dialogue and a national research on inequality; and to lead national discussions through further high-impact research papers on inequality in the respective country.

The diagnostic tool will also facilitate the comparability of results and findings across participating countries. Leibbrandt says this externality represents one of the major motivations for a multi-country collaboration such as ACEIR: “By following the methods and interpretation described in the tool, researchers will ensure that data is prepared and analysed in similar ways, meaning the results can be compared across the different country nodes.”

An inclusive, engaged and African research agenda

Inequality has many adverse effects on the texture and functioning of societies. International Monetary Fund research, for example, shows at an aggregate, cross-country level that inequality harms growth and that there is scope for growth-enhancing redistributive policy.

“There is thus a very strong mandate to research – seriously – policies and broader strategies to overcome inequality”, says Leibbrandt. “ACEIR seeks to take up this challenge and position African researchers centre stage of the analysis of our inequalities and to build the quantity and quality of African researchers working in this area.”

As the go-to centre on the topic of inequality, ACEIR is positioned to become a key player in the development of methodological tools on how to better integrate the fight against inequalities in public policies and development strategies such as the SDGs.

“ACEIR’s mission to create access to relevant data on inequality will facilitate the monitoring of progress on the SDGs”, says Prof. Robert Osei who leads the Ghanaian node, “and will ensure that specifics are taken into consideration in the evaluation of the causes and consequences of inequality on the continent.”

Article by Charmaine Smith, ACEIR communication manager, June 2019.