Public statistics in Africa: renewal and challenges

Over the last few years, several researchers have challenged African statistics. Among the many examples was the article written by World Bank economist Shantayanan Devarajan in 2013, “Africa’s Statistical Tragedy.” It painted a gloomy picture of African statistics as affected by the lack of capacity of statistical institutions, an unclear administration of responsibilities, a lack of stable state funding, and the destabilising effect of donor funding. This public questioning of public statistics in Africa provoked reactions. In addition to the outcries branding these speeches from the North as neo-colonialist, several concrete initiatives have been launched. In 2010, the Strategy for the Harmonisation of Statistics in Africa (SHaSA) was established. More recently, at the beginning of 2017, a new version of that strategy was drafted (SHaSA II) at the same time as the Pan African Institute of Statistics (STATAFRIC) became operational – an institution intended to standardise statistics on the continent and to help the African Union Commission steer the African integration process. In a context characterised by increased reliance on statistics in the name of “evidence-based” or “results-based” paradigms, and the adoption by the United Nations in September 2015 of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) associated with 169 targets and 229 statistical indicators, these attempts to strengthen African statistics are already a central issue guiding public policies related to development. African statistics, however, cannot be reduced to this dimension alone. In fact, in Europe, statistics have historically constituted a tool to strengthen states by helping them create communities and by allowing them to effectively manage their populations. Likewise, they are an essential tool for holding administrations accountable, illustrating progress and denying tenacious rumours. In this respect, statistics are among the major challenges faced by African countries in building public authorities, in designing their work, and in maintaining their legitimacy.

To learn more: Revue Afrique contemporaine, n°258, 2017.

United Nations Economic and Social Council and the African Union, Strategy for the Harmonisation of Statistics in Africa. SHaSA II (2017-2026), March 2017.