African stats 'a numbers game' -- study

Jan 17, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- International development and aid groups are making decisions and distributing funds to African nations based on national statistics that are incomplete and untrustworthy, says Simon Fraser University economic historian Morten Jerven.

“There is an unjustified numbers game that has a misleading air of accuracy,” says Jerven, a School for International Studies assistant professor, who spent several months observing statistical collection methods in countries including Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia.

He found that little is actually known about the countries’ economic status. “There’s a great variation across time and across countries on what kind of data is available for what kind of indicators,” he says.

That’s because statistics offices are chronically underfunded and tend to use windfall funding from strategic donors to produce statistics that only interest the donors. These are often social indicators related to health delivery, maternal health or school attainment, rather than broader, more useful economic statistics related to employment, industry, agriculture and economic growth.

As a result, the countries’ statistical systems are incomplete and the type and reliability of data collected varies from country to country.

Many data users are not aware of this variation in quality, says Jerven, adding most aggregate statistics on African economies involve a lot of guesswork.

“This all raises questions about which of these indicators we should use to select countries for a particular project, and how we know whether a project is working or not,” he says.

Jerven has presented his findings to World Bank officials and several conferences. The research has also resulted in a book, Poor Numbers: Facts, Assumptions and Controversy in African Development Statistics, which is forthcoming from Cornell University Press.

Jerven’s aim is to initiate discussions with donors and aid organizations about what kind of should be a priority and how to align them with the priorities of local African economies.

Explore further: Texas OKs most new history textbooks amid outcry

Provided by Simon Fraser University

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

WHO's math doesn't add up for developing world

Jun 06, 2011

Medical school researchers warned last month that one of the most widely trusted sources of data on global health could be mistaken, leaving countries ill-prepared to deal with the economic and health-care burdens of aging ...

Canada isn't really interested in your sexual orientation

May 25, 2011

Because homosexuals, and especially bisexuals, are statistically more likely to be at risk of ill health, Statistics Canada must come up with new questionnaires that will reveal how sexual orientation is linked to stress, ...

More money does not lead to better governance

Jun 24, 2011

Good governance is a condition of economic progress in developing countries. But when people in a corrupt country start earning more money, the result is not development but more corruption. These findings are outlined in ...

Recommended for you

Study identifies why re-educating torturers may not work

Nov 21, 2014

Many human rights educators assume – incorrectly, as it turns out – that police and military officers in India who support the torture of suspects do so because they are either immoral or ignorant. This ...

Research helps raise awareness of human trafficking

Nov 21, 2014

Human trafficking –– or the control, ownership and sale of another human being for monetary gain –– was a common occurrence centuries ago, but many believe it doesn't exist in this day and age and not in this country.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.