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Gambians can address widening inequalities in transformative capabilities


Gambia makes progress in human development

By Aissata De

This week, Gambians joined the rest of the World in launching the Global Human Development Report examining inequalities in human development in the 21st century. The Human Development is a flagship publication of the United Nations that fosters broad discussion on pertinent issues. This is at the back of the presentation of the national budget for The Gambia to the National Assembly and two days of private sector deliberations at the Senegambia Economic Forum.

A key finding of the report, thanks to the global efforts, is that inequalities in basic capabilities are falling, even though they remain high. The report also indicates that inequalities are widening in capabilities likely to be central to people over the next decades. These are the transformative capabilities such as opportunities people have to avoid premature death, broadening the horizon of what is possible, and income levels that provide a life of genuine choice and freedom. It is a thought-provoking report that I encourage you to lay your hands on and read.

Gambia’s Progress

The report also provides progress in Human Development for The Gambia. The Gambia has experienced steady progress since 1990 in the three indices of human development. Life expectancy at birth improved from 52.2 years in 1990 to 61.7 years in 2018. The mean years of schooling increased from 1.2 years to 3.7 years. And income per capita in purchasing power parity increased from 1,329 to 1,490. The result has been that between 1990 and 2018, Gambia’s HDI value increased from 0.328 to 0.466, an increase of 41.9 percent. The Gambia ranks 174 out of 189 countries and territories in 2018.

However, when the value is discounted for inequality in the indices, the Human Development Index falls from 0.466 to 0.293, a loss of 37.2 percent. The largest fall is not due to income, it is due to education.

The future is in our hands

Let me come back to the report’s findings that inequalities in transformative capabilities are widening across the world. These are capabilities brought about by tertiary education and access to broadband internet for example. These opportunities were considered a luxury not too long ago.

There are questions on whether technology transformation will increase inequalities for the Gambians? Or will the Gambian take the challenge and use technology to create jobs of the future?

Technology is one area that practically The Gambia could leverage to harness the benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) such as investing in logistics platforms, strengthening standards and easing processes and procedures. But Gambia still must invest.

It is encouraging to note that the Government through the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure is working on transforming The Gambia into a digital nation. Complementary actions will be required such as strengthening e-governance, investing in data, and training of civil service at all levels to deliver.

Let me lay out addition choices that need to be made. In the year 2020 Government plans to articulate a new long-term plan for The Gambia, a Voluntary National Review of Sustainable Development Goals, and a Common Country Assessment.

Looking beyond income

The report challenges us to look beyond how many Dalasis people earn and identify other forms of inequality. Disadvantages in education or health can be game changers and can break or make the future. And these disadvantages are often easily passed on to generations.

It also means we have to be bold on how we want to measure human progress. With so much transformation unfolding before our eyes, it maybe better to start measuring a long and heathy life not by using life expectancy at birth but by the opportunities Gambians have to avoid premature death. In the same manner, instead of using years of school as a measure of knowledge, it is essential to identify a measure that signify broadening the horizons of what is possible for Gambians.

Going beyond averages

It is often that measures of inequality focus on Gambia as a nation without having an understanding of how the people in local economies such as districts are doing. We may not have data for all districts but that should never be a good excuse. Measuring and understanding how the local economies are is an important policy choice.

Looking beyond today

Often the data we have is about the present or the past. It therefore often depicts our past policy choices and not the bold choices of the future. The changing world requires that we anticipate inequalities in the future and design pathways to address them. In the case of The Gambia, we have the opportunities to harness technological progress and the AfCFTA to avoid being marginalized and ensure we leave no one behind. It is up to the Gambians today to shape the future Gambia for future generations.

Aissata De is the UNDP Resident Representative for The Gambia


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