South African inequalities highlighted at international conference

Screenshots of Prof. Vimal Ranchhod and Prof. Murray Leibbrandt speaking at the conference. Images: ACEIR.

The Research Facility on Inequalities, financed by the European Union’s (EU’s) Development Cooperation Instrument and carried out by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD), was designed to deepen the understanding of socio-economic inequalities in low- and middle-income countries, and analyse the public policy and development policy levers for reducing these inequalities. Some of the research outputs of the African Centre of Excellence for Inequality Research (ACEIR), which is hosted by UCT at SALDRU, are part of the Research Facility’s 23 research projects to date. These have focused primarily on vertical inequalities while exploring themes such as health, education, taxation, and access to essential services.

With progress in inequality reduction being reversed in many countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its social and economic impacts, the final conference of the EU-AFD Research Facility on Inequalities was particularly timely.

Presenting on day two of the online event, the ACEIR country nodes’ conveners had the opportunity to present findings from the inequality trend reports published for Ghana, Kenya and South Africa; and discuss these with the conference participants. SALDRU’s deputy-director, Prof. Vimal Ranchhod, who convenes ACEIR’s South Africa node, presented findings from the South African report. He was the lead author on the report’s chapter on labour market inequality, and also co-authored a Handbook on Inequality Measurement for Country Studies with SALDRU’s Dr Muna Shifa. While the handbook was produced as an intermediate guide for the ACEIR country-level inequality analyses, it may also be useful for researchers who are planning an inequality study within a particular country.

Responding to the ACEIR report presentations by Prof. Ranchhod, Prof. Robert Darko Osei (University of Ghana) and Prof. Damiano Manda (University of Nairobi), was the AFD deputy-director of the economic assessment and public policy department, Ms Cecile Valadier. She highlighted that collaborating with ACEIR on inequality diagnostics for African countries helps the AFD to reach stakeholders beyond the usual engagement with government departments.

At another session on the same day, SALDRU and ACEIR director, Prof. Murray Leibbrandt, discussed the approach to and value of the inequality diagnostics as part of a conference session on various tools that were developed or expanded through the Research Facility to assist policies and strategies to address inequalities.

“Publishing inequality diagnostics is not the end of the process but the start”, Prof. Leibbrandt told the panel as he emphasised to “take research findings forward to stakeholder engagements with governments, civil society, and international development agencies”. In the case of the South Africa report, launched in November 2019, the findings were discussed at a stakeholder event chaired by a senior official in the Office of the President.

The increase in African inequalities is underlining the urgency to get serious about the United Nations’ Agenda 2030, Dr Anda David, AFD’S lead economist on inequality, told the conference. “This calls for more evidence-based tools, such as the inequality diagnostics, to help reach Sustainable Development Goal 10 to reduce inequality”, she added. In particular, “local ownership, including support to municipalities to enable them to use and interpret data, is an important aspect of strategies to overcome inequality”, according to Dr David.

Conference participants included dignitaries from the EU, the AFD and eminent scholars such as Thomas Piketty, Professor of Economics at the Paris School of Economics and London School of Economics and Political Science. Recordings of all the sessions are available on the conference website.

Visit the ACEIR website.