News / Africa

    New Research Confronts Africa’s 'Statistical Tragedy'

    For years, Ghanaians had many more cedis than statistics indicated.
    For years, Ghanaians had many more cedis than statistics indicated.
    Nico Colombant

    Researchers and economists are starting to take a closer look at Africa’s statistics, which they say are often wrong and misleading. A World Bank official goes so far as describing the situation as a statistical “tragedy”.

    The headline speaker at a recent conference in Washington called “Poor Numbers! What do we know about income and growth in sub-Saharan Africa?” was Morten Jerven.

    His answer: many of the numbers which are circulated in official documents, outside assessments and the media are wrong.

    Jerven, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada explains why he has made it his academic pursuit to uncover the shortcomings of Africa’s statistics.

    “Many economic activities are unrecorded. Thus the numbers, the statistics we produce and which are reproduced through the United Nations, the World Bank and so forth is not really fact, but rather guesses, best guesses with a considerable margin of error attached to them. Sometimes we make decisions using this data without knowing exactly how certain we should be of the evidence we are using," he said.

    With much of its economies informal, many African countries have richer citizens than statistics indicate.

    This year, Ghana was reclassified as a middle income country, rather than a poor country, after it was found the government and international agencies had for years underestimated average Ghanaian income by over 60 percent.  This also means Ghana no longer qualifies for certain World Bank loans.

    The World Bank’s chief economist for Africa Shanta Devarajan calls it a statistical tragedy. He says a lot has been done to help African countries, without really knowing the actual effect since the numbers have not been accurate.

    “The tragedy here is that we all were happily publishing estimates of Ghana’s growth domestic product for the last 20 years including extolling how Ghana was growing so rapidly and Ghana was actually reducing poverty at a very rapid clip and how well it has been doing and we were taking quite a lot of credit too if I might add," he said.

    Work is currently underway to revise Kenya’s average national income upward as well.

    Devarajan says in many African countries statistical methodologies will often change from one survey to the next, making comparisons extremely unreliable. He says statistics from many countries are also out of date, or are based on old collection methods.

    Angola, Guinea-Bissau and the Central African Republic are some of the African countries where statistics are particularly outdated.

    Devarajan says politicians favor ignorance or doctoring statistics rather than having accurate ones, as a tool to remain in power. “They can turn around the statistical tragedy if we recognize the problem as political, we can attack it at its roots. The first is we should insist that all data be accessible and open and transparent," he said.

    Devarajan also puts the blame on donors, and the World Bank itself. He says outsiders often rush to get statistics to publish their own reports, and do little to help strengthen a country’s statistical capacity.

    Jerven, who is working on a new book on the topic, says it still is a very lonely field among economists, who mostly prefer to use statistics rather than assess their quality. “If you say to an economist that the data quality is poor, you are most likely to meet a shrug of shoulders," he said.

    But Jerven says inaccurate statistics are being used to rate countries in all sorts of rankings, and to set new development targets. He says the more grey areas there are in terms of the numbers the more likelihood there is in terms of corruption as well.

    You May Like

    Turkey, West in Standoff Over Syrian Refugees

    Turkish government refuses to admit refugees, the first in a wave of civilians fleeing offensive by Assad regime in northern Aleppo countryside

    Jailed American Testifies About Islamist Involvement in Mumbai Attacks

    David Headley testifies via video link that Pakistan-based Islamic terror group made two failed attempts to mount strikes in Mumbai in months prior to coordinated assault

    These Are the 10 Smartest US States

    A new report breaks down the nation's best and brightest

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.