Measured in money terms, Africa is the most unequal of the continents. There is, however, huge variation in the magnitude, changes and texture of this inequality. For instance, the high aggregate figure is driven by the fact that seven of the 10 most unequal countries in the world are in Africa – and most of them southern Africa. However, if southern African countries (i.e. South Africa, Zambia and six smaller economies) are excluded, Africa has inequality levels comparable to developing countries in other parts of the world.
Therefore, both because some African countries are world ‘leaders’ in inequality, and because, over the next 30 years, Africa’s population will make up a rapidly rising share of the world’s population (especially in the younger age groups), Africa’s inequality dynamics should be an important piece of the international inequality puzzle.
The establishment of the African Centre of Excellence for Inequality Research (ACEIR) directly addresses the analytical and measurement needs that are required for policy interventions and civil society action to turn the tide against inequality.
Africa needs to ensure that it is included in the international measurements, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, and for this reason the Centre will enhance the quality of relevant data on inequalities across and within African nations. Equally important is that the continent must ensure that the specifics of its societies are considered in the analysis both of the factors causing inequality and the consequences of inequality. Understanding how data from each country work together to illuminate the status of inequality – and the implications for policy – is the important intellectual agenda of the Centre.
Building capacity for frontier data scholarship and the interpretation of analyses for policy to reduce inequality are therefore at the heart of the Centre. In this regard, its core team has a proven track record of both data scholarship, of national and regional capacity development in these areas and of policy engagement.
Some big issues will provide a framework for ACEIR’s research agenda. These include:
- There are many numerous and confusing mappings between growth and poverty in Africa. This lack of clear and simple correlation calls for exactly the textured country-level analysis of inequality that is the bedrock of the Centre.
- The origins of contemporary inequality, and the connection between poverty, inequality and growth, predate the start of the collection of contemporary data ACEIR will thus embed the present and the last few decades in a longer-run, historical perspective of the political economy of African development. This ambitious intellectual agenda will ensure that the quantitative analysis is appropriately anchored in historical legacies.
- The Centre will link processes related to inequality within each country to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) by contributing to the derivation and implementation of meaningful sets of multidimensional indicators of well-being.
- This mode of knowledge creation will provide a uniquely useful contribution into discussions around the SDGs and into the development of policies to overcome poverty and inequality.
Within the context of the above, the initial research programme will cover the following:
- Using census and survey data to profile and map inequality and poverty.
- Describing and analysing contemporary inequality using household surveys
- Analysing the dynamics of poverty and inequality using panel data
- Using the above evidence as a platform for dialogue over strategies to overcome poverty and inequality
ACEIR has its hub at the University of Cape Town (UCT), which also hosts the southern African node. The eastern and western African nodes are hosted by the University of Ghana, Legon, and the University of Nairobi respectively. The hub and each node are led by researchers who have stature and are well established in the contemporary African and broader international inequality communities; they will connect the work of the Centre into these broad networks. Furthermore, the research agenda of ACEIR will draw on DataFirst to play a caentral role in the research and training activities of ACEIR across its initial three nodes.
Through this diverse expertise, and with its unparalleled attempt at creating and analyzing meaningful, comparative data and analyses of their implications for policy making, ACEIR will contribute significantly to an understanding of the drivers and consequences of inequality. This will happen through careful, deep, multidimensional and interdisciplinary understandings in each country context, and a global and continent-specific understanding of how inequalities can be overcome.