OPINION: Awakening the insidious and pernicious side of IT

JOHANNESBURG – The slogan for Agenda 2030, the march to achieving sustainable development, has been termed from billions to trillions because it will take trillions of dollars for it to be implemented.

The Total Official Support to Sustainable Development (TOSSD) has undertaken work, the results of which hold promise to informing the world better on these flows.

By excluding these flows TOSSD has appropriated for itself a countervailing standard to claims that might go undetected as Sustainable Development compliant. TOSSD attended the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September.

But this time, unlike what earlier UN agendas such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) – both of which are predecessors to the – Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) took centre stage.

The SDGs have not faced a different fate from the perspective of measurement. But what has changed is what the tools of measurement – Data Revolution – has brought to the fore.

More importantly, statistics and national statisticians were seized with the measurement of the seventeen goals right from the onset.

This has not been an easy task as statisticians were soon to learn that not all the goals as determined by the political agenda lent themselves to measurement. So the big task is for statisticians to generate tools that enable them to measure.

Karl Marx, through praxis, quite elegantly negated measurement without philosophy and philosophy without measurement.

His lens was later expounded upon by Serbian philosopher Mihailo Markovic, who gained prominence in the 1960s and 1970s as a proponent of the Praxis School, a Marxist humanist movement  based on theory that is both scientific and critical.

The agenda for SDGs has brought this theory to the centre and elevates the twin properties of science and its spirit in obvious ways.

Scientists and statisticians, often infatuated by the purity and objectivity of measurement – the positivist movement – are seeking to appropriate for themselves the advancement of science as the exclusive mover of change, while those opposed romanticise science as a subordinate form of anthropology.

The notion that data revolution as well as attendant apps and gadgets are the "be-all" and "end-all" of development to solve world problems has been awakened by the insidious and pernicious side of information technology (IT).

While IT advances the field of measurement to near real time and can contribute positively to overall societal movement, what has spooked the world today is the increasing levels of inequality.

That some 26 tycoons own an equivalent of what the 3.6 billion poor of the world have is simply unsustainable.

With these startling statistics, powered by the ethos of SDGs, even the dentistry of the horse of philanthropy has become a subject of inspection. Land, capital and labour are factors of production that are up for discussion.

TOSSD may bring redress to dimension that dominated development discourse that was hollow of Marxist humanism.

Statistician-General  Risenga Maluleke co-chairs TOSSD with Mr Laurent Sarazin of the EU. I am a member of the task team. 

Dr Pali Lehohla is a former Statistician-General of South and former head of Statistics South Africa.


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