3. From valuing growth to valuing wellbeing

We need to start with the end in mind. At the early stages of the African transformation, we have the opportunity to redefine productivity and find new ways of measurement in line with African values and dreams for the future. We seek to move beyond GDP to metrics that truly capture shalom, the wellbeing of people and the planet, so our governments and leaders deliver what is truly needed and promised.

For almost 80 years, growth worldwide has primarily been measured purely in terms of GDP – a tool developed and adopted in the era of World War II. GDP counts the value of goods and services produced in a country, so more is better, even if it comes at the cost of trust and social cohesion. GDP measures income, but not equality, growth or destruction, and ignores social cohesion, health, happiness, spirituality and the natural world. It usually ignores unpaid work (therefore excluding many women) and the informal economy, which three in five people around the world rely on for their income.64 Measuring GDP alone drives greed, inequality and exploitative extraction from both people and the planet.

Measuring GDP can be understood as a measure of the Genesis 3 curse: a combination of the back-breaking work required to produce from the land and the unrelenting extraction of value from the creation we were given to protect. The ultimate measure of restoration is to measure the state of shalom – justice and peace: the abundant life that Jesus promised us.

The pandemic-driven recession has reinforced what we knew: we are far from shalom. But as we rebuild, how will we know shalom when we see it? We need to be able to explain and measure what it looks like when we see God’s kingdom come in our communities, institutions, cities and nations.

This requires new ways of measuring development success that align with our cultural and theological values and focus on the wellbeing of citizens and the planet, rather than an economic bottom line. These should align with the AU’s fifth aspiration on values and ethics. Recently, there have been some attempts to create alternative tools to measure development, including (but not limited to) the Human Development Index, Sustainable Development Goals, the Inclusive Development Index and Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index,71 which has been adopted by other countries, such as New Zealand, when it announced a new budget in 2019 to help local communities prosper. Local measurement approaches have been also developed, such as the Standard of Living Index and the Light Wheel, which measures change in all aspects of a person or community’s wellbeing.

We need a monitoring tool that learns from these but which is shaped by African citizens rather than governments or institutions. We seek a tool that speaks to the African worldview of development, which looks at the whole person and not just the acquisition of wealth. Focusing on data collected by citizens would help them assess progress and engage duty bearers in progressive discussions about delivering what is needed and what has been promised. We aim to develop a People’s Abundance Index to enable church communities to assess progress and take localised action to advocate for change and see shalom realised in their communities.

Abundant ideas for valuing wellbeing

We therefore call on…
Church and movement leaders to join the Abundant Africa coalition in developing a People’s Abundance Index to enable citizens to monitor wellbeing and development at local, national and regional levels. This will equip us to discern and measure shalom together, and to hold national and regional actors to account. As part of this, leaders should host annual multi-stakeholder engagement discussions with governments.

Governments to include citizen-generated data in metrics and decision making. Data generated by citizens has been promoted in the context of SDG tracking and monitoring of COVID-19 infections. There are examples where governments have supported citizen monitoring, but for the most part, governments use only their own data. We need them to support and use in-depth citizendriven monitoring of wellbeing and development because this will strengthen decision making by providing timely data from contexts that decision makers may not have access to, and will enable them to align their decisions with the needs of local communities.

Governments to include the value and costs of natural and social capital in their budgeting processes. Waste and pollution are often excluded from budgeting; the costs of negative impacts are pushed onto society, future generations and the environment. Including these costs in
budgeting is a key interim step in the journey away from GDP as the primary measurement standard.

The AU to incorporate wellbeing measures and citizen-generated data into two-yearly reports on the implementation of Agenda 2063 and the implementation plan that follows its First Ten-Year Implementation Plan (2013-2023). Where possible this should be integrated into the national development plans of member states. Valuing wellbeing is glaringly absent from the AU’s Agenda 2063; there are many goals for achieving the Africa we want, but no way to measure this holistically. Incorporating these measures would enable the AU to use its influence to champion better measurements of wellbeing and shalom among national governments, investors and business.