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Mo Ibrahim report finds African governments flying blind amid inadequate data collection

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Thursday, 31 October 2019 13:23

How many people live in the DRC? A generation has passed without a census. REUTERS/Thomas Nicolon

Data collection use by African governments is still insufficient to leave policymakers and potential investors adequately informed.

That’s a key finding of Agenda 2063 & 2030: Is Africa on Track?, a report on African governance published by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in October.

Data is a “key focus” which many African governments are not addressing, Nathalie Delapalme, executive director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, said in an interview. “You can’t drive blind.”

Good quality data is “the basis of sound policy,” for example in health, education, employment, financial services and voting, Delapalme said. Crucial issues, she argues, are a lack of independence of national statistical offices from governments and insufficient financial support.

Open Data Watch’s Open Data Inventory (ODIN) assesses the coverage and openness of national statistics.

  • It found that only four African countries in 2018 met 80% or more of its criteria for the population and vital statistics data: Nigeria (90.0%), Seychelles (87.5%), South Africa (80.0%) and Sierra Leone (80.0%).
  • Eight African countries met none of the criteria for data coverage: Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Madagascar, São Tomé & Príncipe, Somalia, Sudan and Swaziland.

The essential point, Delapalme explained, is for governments to understand the importance of data and to make greater political commitment to financing it. It’s a “big mistake” to think that data is a dry and boring subject, she added. “It’s a matter of sovereignty.”

Partners such as non-African countries and international investors also have a stake in better African data and should press the case, she argued.

Uncounted generations

“Despite increased participation in censuses and household surveys and use of technology, most African countries are still unable to collect data in a regular and timely manner,” the Mo Ibrahim Foundation report finds.

  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea and Somalia, a census has not been conducted since before 1990, almost 30 years or a whole generation ago.
  • Only just over half (54.4%) of the continent’s population live in a country where a census took place between 2009 and 2018.
  • Only eight African countries have a birth registration system that covers 90% or more of the population over the past ten years, according to the report.
  • The worst performing countries are Chad and Tanzania, which cover 12.0% and 13.3% of births respectively.
  • Only three African countries – Egypt, Mauritius and Seychelles – have a death registration system that covers 90% or more of the population.
  • In that field, the worst performer is Niger, with a death coverage rate of only 3.5% in 2018.

The Seychelles government in particular understands that “once you own your vital statistics, it makes your public policy much more efficient,” Delapalme said.

The 2009 African Charter on Statistics, which defines a code of professional ethics for statisticians, has been signed by 33 African countries, but only 23 have ratified it, the report finds.

  • In data openness, only four African countries scored 70% or more in 2018: Rwanda (90%), Botswana (70%), Morocco (70%) and South Africa (70%).

“There is a wealth of data in the private sector” of which governments could make greater use, Delapalme said. For example, data on the environment is often lacking, but mining companies and agricultural, forestry and fisheries businesses are likely to have access to it.

The bottom line: Much policymaking and many investment decisions in most African countries will remain a shot in the dark until data collection improves.

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