Why Human development matters

By Obadiah Mailafia

THE World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings were recently concluded in the paradisiacal island of Bali in Indonesia. It was attended by more than 3,000 delegates, among them finance ministers, central bank governors, high civil servants, international officials and the lot. IMF Managing Director Christina Lagarde likened it to a successful wedding. Weddings take a lot of preparation; and then the grand occasion arrives. Then the merriment follows and all guests eventually depart, taking with them fond memories of everything that transpired.

Several topics featured prominently on the agenda: the slow and uncertain growth in Europe; continuing progress in Asia; the fragile recovery in countries such as Nigeria in Africa; and the intransigent bellicosity of Donald Trump against everybody else. There was general consensus that the continuing trade war between the United States and China could undermine the outlook for global growth while weakening the foundations of the post-war international liberal economic and trading order as we have always known it.

One point that got me worried was the release of the World Bank’s Annual Development Report with its famous Human Development Index, HDI, which places Nigeria on position 152 out of 157 countries. It is by far the worst we have ever attained since the HDI was released several decades ago. The HDI is a summary measure that assesses long-term progress in three major dimensions of social and economic development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge, and a decent standard of living with a secure environment. A long and healthy life is, of course, measured by the numerical value of life-expectancy. Access to knowledge is measured in terms of the mean years of schooling among children and the population, including the average number of years of education received in a life-time by people aged 25 and above.

The scores for the HDI are measured from a perfect absolute of 1 to the lowest of 0.00. Nigeria was placed at position 157 out 189 countries, with a score of 0.532. Sadly enough, the country with the dubious prize of last position, 189, was our own neighbouring Niger Republic, with a score of 0.354. Sadly, the ten worst countries are all from our continent. Apart from the worst performing country of Niger, the worst performers by, descending order, are: Mozambique (0.437), Liberia (0.435), Mali (0.427), Burkina Faso (0.423), Sierra Leone (0.419), Burundi (0.417), Chad (0.404), South Sudan (0.388), and Central African Republic (0.326). It is also regrettable that among the ten worst performers, six are from our own ECOWAS region.

The 10 best performers in the world are: Norway (0.953), Switzerland (0.944), Australia (0.939), Ireland (0.938), Germany (0.936), Iceland (0.935), Hong Kong (0.933), Sweden (0.933), Singapore (0.932) and Netherlands (0.931). Remarkably, the world’s top three largest economies, USA, China and Japan do not feature among the top ten. The United States occupies the 13th position, with a score of 0.924. China comes in at number 86, with a score of 0.752 while the world’s third largest economy, Japan, occupies position 19 with a score of 0.909.

What these figures show is that human development is not synonymous with national wealth or the gross domestic product. A nation such as China occupies the second position in terms of GDP, but trails far behind small prosperous democracies such as Norway and Switzerland. Among the world’s largest economies, Germany does rather well, combining both a high GDP and a strong performance in terms of human development, with position number 5 in the world index and high HDI score of 0.936.

The lesson from the foregoing is that GDP alone does not tell us the whole story about the prosperity of nations. Yes, growth matters as does the level of GDP and per capita incomes. But so does investment in human capital, welfare and improved livelihoods. Some of the worst performing countries, especially those in Africa, are also countries that have undergone violence and conflict. Such countries include Burundi, Guinea Bissau, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. Nigeria is also a country rife with random nihilistic violence, insurgency, kidnapping, criminality and banditry. Life for many Nigerians is a Hobbesian nightmare that is “solitary, nasty, brutish and short”.

More recently, security has been placed at the centre stage of human development. For decades, political scientists have been preoccupied with what is termed the ‘security dilemma’ in international politics. The Westphalian system of world politics constitutes, according toHedley Bull, an ‘anarchical society’. Where global society has evolved a body of norms and institutions to restrain the behaviour of states, the reality of insecurity is a permanent feature of the society of states. Most often, when governments refer to ‘national security’ they are referring to the survival of the state and the rulers rather than the security of the people. The fragility of multi-ethnic states such as those of Africa heightens the potential for conflict and instability which compounds the challenges of security. It is also true that the gaps in the structures of state formation can open up windows of greater vulnerability.

This traditional conception of security has to be distinguished from the new paradigm of human security which transcends the narrow reference to the state and its institutions. The concept of human security has been defined in terms of “the obligation of the state to provide a facilitating environment for equality and individual participation through democracy, adherence to human rights and the participation of civil society”. Indeed, so important has been the nexus between security and development that the World Bank devoted its world development report for 2011 to the theme of ‘security and development’. The report underlines security as the primary development challenge of our time, given how conflict and violence undermine livelihoods and lead to the collapse of national institutions. The European Union has identified human security as a major policy of internal as well as external relations.

According to Sadako Ogata and Amartya human security entails “the responsibility to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfilment. Human security means protecting fundamental freedoms…It means creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity”.

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Human security embraces the responsibility to protect individuals and communities within and across nations from the physical and emotional insecurity from war, violence and conflict as well as natural and man-made disasters. Terrorist insurgency and the activities of local and foreign armed herdsmen militia bandits and the state of fear that they engender is clearly one of the major threats to the security of individuals, communities and nations. It is also a major determinant of low performance in the global human development index, particularly for countries such as Nigeria and others on our continent. 

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