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Is the Human Development Index (HDI) a relevant tool for African countries?

21 October 2021, Oulimata Suzanne SY
Is the Human Development Index (HDI) a relevant tool for African countries?

To measure a country's level of economic and social development, economists use development indicators. A development indicator is a statistical instrument for measuring the socio-economic performance achieved by a country. We can distinguish between economic indicators, social indicators and composite indicators.

Still called national accounts indicators, economic indicators are often linked to production and reflect changes in the net wealth produced.

Given the multiple shortcomings of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and certain social indicators, economists and international organizations have expressed the need for socio-economic criteria allowing development to be measured more objectively.

Considering that the goal of development should be to create an environment that allows individuals to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) established in 1990 the Human Development Index (HDI).

The HDI measures progress in human development based on three dimensions:

• Longevity: Measured by life expectancy at birth, longevity is defined as the average number of years that an individual could live if he knew his mortality conditions throughout his life; in other words, if the individual enjoys an ideal living condition and the absence of illness or accident.

• Level of education: Composed for 2/3 of the adult literacy rate and 1/3 of the gross enrollment rate for school-age children.

• Standard of living: It is determined by real GDP per capita adjusted to purchasing power parity. The latter reflects a fictitious level of exchange rate which makes it possible to buy the same type of product under identical conditions in different countries.

Thus, the HDI is calculated by taking an average of these three indicators for which each is assigned a number between 0 and 1 according to a minimum and maximum value set by the UNDP.

Depending on the result found, we distinguish three types of country:

- Low human development countries with an HDI of less than 0.5
- Average human development countries with an HDI between 0.5 and 0.8
- High human development countries with an HDI greater than or equal to 0.8.

After our technical demonstrations, a legitimate question arises: Is the HDI a relevant tool for measuring the level of development of African countries?

We know that the HDI should be seen as a measure of the human ability to live a long and healthy life, to communicate, to participate in the life of the community and to have sufficient resources to ensure a decent life. Our criticism of the HDI is that it sends us back to questions like:

- Why do we have to keep only three dimensions?
- Why retain an equal weight for each element?
- Is the choice of a minimum and a maximum justified?

In addition, the HDI, which is a national average, often masks strong inequalities between genders, regions, social classes, etc.

We know that today, more and more African countries are well positioned in the economic rankings thanks to ever increasing growth figures. However, if in terms of numbers these countries such as the Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, and Seychelles... succeed in doing well, what about the population? Is it benefiting from the fallout from this economic dynamic?

Another limitation to underline regarding these development indicators is their universality.
We know that in Africa, solidarity is a fundamental value. The latter can affect the per capita income which is an integral part of the HDI calculation.

In addition, in our countries, as indicated above, we are witnessing strong development inequalities. We know that in a country like Senegal, the informal sector represents 80% of the GDP and 97% of jobs are provided by the informal sector. The latter is not taken into account by the HDI even if it seems difficult to achieve.

These indicators also ignore the significant correlation between different aspects of the quality of life in our countries such as fulfillment which is an important criterion for development in Africa.
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