A few home truths on human development in our region

THERE ARE some home truths on human development we should not forget even as we reflect on both the happy and unhappy goings-on in our region lately. 
Gitura Mwaura
Gitura Mwaura

THERE ARE some home truths on human development we should not forget even as we reflect on both the happy and unhappy goings-on in our region lately. 

Last year’s Human Development Report titled ‘The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World’, showed how Africa had accomplished the second highest growth after South Asia over the past ten years.

Of the 14 countries in the world that recorded Human Development Index gains of more than two per cent annually since 2000, eleven are in Africa and include Rwanda and Uganda. 

The report looked at improvements in access to health services in Rwanda through a universal community-based health insurance scheme (Mutuelle de Santé), and education reforms in Uganda. 

Kenya did not fail to get mention on how cellular banking has made life cheaper and easier though M-pesa, while leading to better market performance and increased profits by small farmers. 

Across East Africa, according to the report, greater regional integration helped shield our economies from global shocks. 

Started in 1990 to record development milestones annually, the Human Development Report is premised on the notion that “people are the real wealth of a nation.” 

And, as articulated by Amatya Sen, one of the Annual Report founders and the 1998 Nobel Laureate in Economics, it is about “advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live, which is only a part of it.” 

But these are the home truths, which are often personal: That, an essential part of human development is equity.

As the 2013 Human Development Report (HDR) put it, “every person has the right to live a fulfilling life according to their own values and aspirations.” 

And, since it is about development, “no one should be doomed to a short life or a miserable one because they happen to be from the ‘wrong’ class or country, the ‘wrong’ ethnic group or race or the ‘wrong’ sex.” 

We in the region have not done too badly. According to the 2013 Report, there have been three notable drivers of development: a proactive developmental state, tapping of global markets and determined social policy and innovation.  

The report observes that a strong, proactive and responsible state develops policies for both public and private sectors – based on a long-term vision and leadership, shared norms and values, and rules and institutions that build trust and cohesion. 

Yet, “publicness” and “privateness” are, in most cases, not innate properties of a public good but social constructs. And, as such, they represent a policy choice.

What does this mean?

I will lengthily quote Mahbub ul Haq, another co-founder of the HDR: “The basic purpose of development is to enlarge people’s choices. In principle, these choices can be infinite and can change over time. People often value achievements that do not show up at all, or not immediately, in income or growth figures: greater access to knowledge, better nutrition and health services, more secure livelihoods, security against crime and physical violence, satisfying leisure hours, political and cultural freedoms and sense of participation in community activities.

“The objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives.”

The 2014 Human Development Report is expected to embrace a theme that “puts people first”, as well as measure different dimensions of progress against five-year trends. 

But last year’s report was emphatic that greater equity, including between men and women and across groups, is not only valuable in itself, but also essential for promoting human development.

Unless people can participate meaningfully in the events and processes that shape their lives, national human development paths will be neither desirable nor sustainable. 

People should be able to influence policymaking and results, and should be able to look forward to greater economic opportunities and political participation and accountability.

The writer is a commentator on local and regional issues

Twitter: @gituram

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