A couple of years before ACEIR was established, economist Dr Anda David, who heads the Agence Française de Développement's (AFD) research programmes on inequality, poverty, and international migration, and Prof. Murray Leibbrandt exchanged concerns about the lack of African research programmes on African inequalities.
Explains Dr David, who is also the scientific coordinator of the Research Facility on Inequalities funded by the European Union (EU) and managed by the AFD:
“When the AFD started working on inequality as one of our key research strands in 2016, there were few local research groups who worked on inequality in Africa. The need for a local research grouping such as ACEIR was apparent because much of the research done on African inequalities at the time was by others outside Africa.”
This gap was narrowed a few years later as ACEIR was set up as a centre of excellence for research on African inequalities under the banner of the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA).
The AFD was one of ACEIR’s first partners with an initial start-up grant funded by the EU-AFD Research Facility on Inequalities.
This partnership has flourished since with ongoing collaborations such as the inequality diagnostics for different African countries; a series of working papers by researchers from ACEIR’s nodes; development of research and training resources; and invitations to present ACEIR research at international events hosted by the Research Facility on Inequalities and to collaborate on stakeholder events with the AFD, the French government, and the European Union.
Perhaps the most visible and ongoing of these are the inequality diagnostics. The first one was published with Statistics South Africa in 2019, followed by one for Ghana (2020), and for Kenya with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (2021). Now in the pipeline is a similar diagnostic for Mozambique, while ACEIR also supports the research for a Mali inequality diagnostics.
Excitingly, the inequality diagnostics have caught the attention of researchers in other regions of the world, resulting in one published for Colombia and another, for Indonesia, on the way.
Both these studies are also supported by the AFD, while ACEIR is providing technical support via training and peer review.
“The inequality diagnostics were developed because there were none for Africa at the time. But, what we didn’t think about was whether there were inequality diagnostics elsewhere. Since the publication of the first diagnostics, people became excited because the need for comprehensive reports which reflect on multidimensional inequalities is quite common across countries. They also liked the approach of working with national statistical offices and creating these links between the researchers and the NSOs”, says Dr David.
To equip the Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa nodes for the required country-level inequality analyses, a Handbook on Inequality Measurement for Country Studies was developed by ACEIR researchers at the University of Cape Town in 2019. This resource provides a framework for doing inequality diagnostics in a similar way, such as by using common methods, common indicators, and dealing with issues of data availability, amongst others.
The lead author of the handbook, Dr Muna Shifa, since has trained the researchers for the South Africa, Mali, Mozambique, and Indonesia analyses – and in some instances officials from a country’s NSO – on the comparable approach followed in the inequality diagnostics.
“It is great that we can improve capacity in this way – it’s part of ACEIR’s mandate to help grow African researchers in inequalities”, says Dr Shifa.
“And, by involving statistical offices, the officials are able to better reflect on data issues relevant to inequality analysis, gaps, and issues for future consideration, including that the method of data collection matters.”
Guiding teams from different countries comes with its own challenges, not the least of which is language barriers. For example, the datasets used for the Mozambique analysis are in Portuguese, and in French for the Mali diagnostic, explains Dr Shifa. It was for this reason that the handbook was translated into French last year for use by Francophone countries, including the Mali team.
With the new inequality diagnostics expected to be released later this year, members of the ACEIR team are also busy wrapping up another achievement towards the centre’s goal to contribute to deep, multidimensional and interdisciplinary understandings of inequality in each country context, and a continental and global understanding of how inequalities can be overcome.
This comes with the successful proposal of the AFD to World Bank partners to publish a book which partly builds on the more than 100 papers on African inequalities that the Research Facility on Inequalities published since 2017. The book will be part of the Africa Development Forum Series of the AFD and the World Bank. As explained online: “The manuscripts chosen for publication in these series represent the highest quality in each institution’s research activities and are selected for their relevance to the development agenda following an external review process.”
“We can’t write a book on Africa without Africans. So having ACEIR as a partner was most important for that book to ensure that the discussion of inequalities in Africa is informed and driven by African researchers”, says Dr David.
The book deals with economic and social inequalities in Africa and offers a unique and holistic approach on African inequality by putting forward an in-depth discussion on Africa. A range of case studies from countries such as Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, and Zambia present a nuanced picture that captures a wide range of perspectives to gain a greater understanding of inequalities on the continent.
Importantly, the book also focuses on climate change and its impact on increasing inequality; and highlights the importance of understanding inequality dynamics to make growth more inclusive – thus speaking directly to the Sustainable Development Goals.
With at least 12 African countries having seen an increase in inequality between 1991 and 2011, and with sub-Saharan Africa hosting seven of the world’s ten most unequal countries, the forthcoming publication will fill a huge gap.
“While development agendas focused primarily on poverty reduction in Africa, little attention has been paid to African inequality in discussions on global inequality. Africa needs to be integrated in these conversations about inequality because of the specific nature of its inequalities and its growing role in the global drivers of inequality”, says Dr David:
“Africa is also important to the global inequalities discussion because one of the major drivers in population growth is in sub-Saharan Africa”.
The book further highlights some of the crucial research gaps on inequalities across the continent, while the evidence it presents may be used to inform future policy interventions in African countries.
The book is written in collaboration with ACEIR under the supervision and coordination of Dr David; Prof. Leibbrandt, director of ACEIR and UCT’s Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU); and Prof. Vimal Ranchhod from SALDRU and convener of ACEIR’s South Africa node.
The manuscript is currently being finalised for submission with the aim of publishing later this year.