We all use them. Here’s one taken at random: “Angola seen growing by 5%“. But how on earth do they know? The torrent of statistics that we receive daily almost all rest on one central assumption: that they have some basis in fact. Sadly, this is frequently not the case.

As Good Governance AfricaAngola street scene points out, one on three African countries have not conducted a census in the past 10 years. So who knows whether the numbers of people in these countries is even remotely accurate? In Angola there had been no census for 44 years. Finally, this May, one was conducted. Before that projections of growth per capita, health ratings and all the rest were, well, little more than estimates.

Often African statistics are just politically driven guesses.

This press release was put out today by Good Governance Africa.

“A third of African countries have not conducted a census in the last ten years, according to the Africa Survey 2014, to be released October 28th by Good Governance Africa (GGA) in Johannesburg.
The Africa Survey is a comprehensive annual collection of social, political and economic indicators for the continent’s 55 African countries, compiled from a wide range of sources.
GGA obtained the information for this release from the World Bank and the United Nations.
Six African countries have not conducted a census in over 20 years: Angola and Western Sahara (44 years); the Democratic Republic of Congo and Eritrea (30); Somalia (27); and Madagascar (21).
Only 16 African countries scored above 70 for statistical capacity, a measure of the competence of national statistical systems based on criteria consistent with international recommendations.
Scores range from 0 to 100 (best). Egypt achieved the highest statistical capacity score at 90. Eleven countries scored under 50 with Somalia scoring the lowest in Africa at 24. South Africa scored 77.
“Many African statistics are not reliable,” said GGA researcher Georgina Alexander. “This has far-reaching implications for policy on the continent because policy can only be as good as the statistics that inform it. African decision makers can only make good policy with accurate numbers.”