Statisticians converge on African Data Revolution

Abuja, 28 March 2014 (ECA) - The 'Data for African Development Working Group Report Launch and Commodity Flows' Side Event took place on 27 March 2014 at the Meeting of the Committee of Experts of the Seventh Joint Annual Meetings of the ECA Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and AU Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance.

Mr. Dozie Ezigbalike, Data Management Coordinator, ECA, introduced an interactive mapping program that displays commodity and finished products trade flow between Africa and the world. It shows data by commodity and by country. It gives total dollar amounts, as well as a country by country breakdown of where imports came from and where exports went.

During demonstrations, Mr. Ezigbalike illustrated a recurring trend and said, “Whether its about cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire or petroleum in Nigeria, African countries are exporting large amounts of raw materials, while importing finished products, evidence that greater processing capabilities can generate economic development in Africa.”

He said the data map will allow for comparisons over time. It will be available online in late April.

Mr. Alex Ezeh, Executive Director, African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) presented the Data for African Development Working Group Report. Hosted in Nairobi, Kenya, the Working Group consisted of 28 data experts from major regional bodies, National Statistics Offices (NSOs), and national bureaus.

The meeting learnt that they explored the root causes of slow data progress on the continent and identified four main challenges. The first is that NSOs have limited independence and unstable budgets. Only 13 of the 54 member States have autonomous NSOs. Secondly, incentives are misaligned and data quality checks are limited.

“For example, the agricultural officer may be responsible for both reporting on crops and for increasing production, which incentivizes over-reporting,” he said. Thirdly, donor priorities take precedence over national priorities. In addition access to and use of data is very limited. As a result, existing data is not being put to good use so its value goes unrecognized, and the motivation for further collection remains low.

Mr. Ezeh described three solutions proposed by the working group. First, build institutions that produce accurate, unbiased data. Secondly, improve access, accuracy, and coordination of data. Finally, NSOs should build capacity by leveraging regional and multilateral partnerships. He said that if ministries can do those three things, “data on the continent would improve dramatically and build the foundation for improvement to development efforts in Africa.”

Discussions stressed the need for political commitment and called on the ECA and AU to prioritize their political commitment to data.

The session underscored the need for governments learn to gather data not just when the world banks ask for it, but as an ongoing process. He said, “This is why a data summit is needed.”