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The curious case of the censored African statistician

By The Africa Report
Posted on Friday, 11 October 2013 15:08

The fight is getting nasty.

On 12 september, Morten Jerven – author of Poor Numbers, a book about the quality of statistics that African governments produce – was scheduled to speak at a United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) meeting in addis ababa.

“But just as I was about to board the plane, I received a phone call saying: ‘do not board the plane,'” says Jerven.

According to Jerven, South Africa’s statistician-general Pali Lehohla had given UNECA an ultimatum, saying that he would pull out of the event and withdraw all his people if Jerven was allowed to speak.

“Lehohla is very sensitive to what he perceives as criticism of Africa, seeing colonial mindsets where there aren’t,” says University of Cape town demographer Tom Moultrie.

It was not the first time Lehohla sought to stop Jerven from reaching an audience.

On 17 May, Lehohla called for the cancellation of an event in Paris at which Jerven was due to speak.

In the end, the event was held behind closed doors.

Others are more open to outside help.

Nigeria’s statistician-general Yemi Kale is working with the African Development Bank and the world Bank on its rebasing programme for the country’s GDP.

The government has been using a baseline figure from 1990, which is now out of date. ●