Food security, nutrition and resilience are central issues of the Permanent Interstate Committee for drought control in the Sahel.
Photo: Jörg Böthling

05.07.2019

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Against the background of food security strategies, over the past two decades, there has been a lively international debate on the quality of the statistical data in sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas there is general agreement that data availability is insufficient, explanations of the reasons for this diverge considerably. Our author demonstrates the context of the on-going debate and the challenges the area currently faces.

In the 2000s, the economic historian Morten Jerven published a series of articles, of which Random Growth in Africa in 2010 and Poor numbers in 2013 evoked numerous responses in Africa and among researchers in the countries of the North. Subsequently, Shanta Devarajan, then Chief Economist of the World Bank’s Middle East and Northern African Region, published Africa’s Statistical Tragedy, a gloomy assessment of the state of the statistics on the continent, citing among other factors the lack of capacity in the statistical institutes, unstable funding, confused management of responsibilities, and also the destructuring effect of funding by donors.

There were few written responses by statistical professionals in sub-Saharan Africa, except for the discussion published by Joseph Tedou, Director General of the National Statistical Institute of Cameroon in 2014. He wrote in the 2014 issue of Stateco (a journal published by the Economic and Statistical Observatory of sub-Saharan Africa, Afristat) that Jerven’s judgment on African statistics was based on the case of Ghana and could not be generalised to the whole continent, and furthermore that African professionals of statistics were aware of the problem of quality and were putting all their efforts into improving it.

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