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

Mood Tense Ahead of Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

South Africa’s 'Open Mosque' Admits Everyone, Including Critics

Open Mosque founder plans to welcome gay worshipers and allow women to lead prayers More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid