Statistical Development in Africa

Published on 23rd August 2005

A highly motivated staff, an efficient management system based on international standards and fairly accurate data has turned the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) into a very successful statistical bureau and role model in Africa. From a Department of Statistics in the ministry of finance, UBOS has been turned into an autonomous bureau and is now regarded as one of the best in Africa.

Prof. Ben Kiregyera, consultant and chairman of the UBOS Board of Directors, told the African Executive that, \"We have a leadership in Uganda, which appreciates and actually uses statistics beginning with the President and the lying ministries. Secondly we were able to recruit first class staff when UBOS was established whom we pay reasonably well and they work very hard to produce results in time.\"

\"First of all we had a clear cut out mandate of the bureau identify the required human and financial resources including other facilities to ensure we deliver,\" the UBOS executive director, Mr. John B. Male-Mukasa said. \"We have been employing an efficient management style that ensures  UBOS delivers,\" Male-Mukasa added.

Male-Mukasa says UBOS remunerates its staff reasonably well though not as the corporate world, but higher than the civil service. He added that the highly trained and motivated staff is accorded a conducive working environment. \"The products and out put is shared by all of us.\"

\"We also have a very efficient follow up of information of what is happening thus keeping the morale of our staff up. If everyone knows about UBOS he/she feels important and motivated. We do not compromise on quality on whatever we produce. We have set up high international standards of statistical production and we employ best and professional practices,\" Male-Mukasa said. \"One must always remember UBOS statistics are fairly accurate and are formulated based on solid and internationally accepted professional methodologies.\"

UBOS has a fairly small representative board of directors made up of seven members that include: the government as the main user, Makerere University the main training institution, the NGO world and private sector. Prof. Kiregyera, a statistical professor recently won the coveted and prestigious international award, the 2nd International Statistical Institute (ISI) Mahalanobis Award for best performing statistician. The award is given to a statistician from a developing country in recognition of his/her lifetime achievement in statistics and promotion of best statistical practice. Prof. Kiregyera thinks that winning the International Statistical Institute (ISI) Mahalanobis Award for best performing statistician means that he has made his contribution and the international community is recognizing the achievements that Uganda has made in statistical development.

Prof. Kiregyera has been credited for helping many African countries set up statistical offices. They include: Nigeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. The countries he notes have virtually the same problems to handle and generic solutions to apply. Nigeria was the most interesting given the size of the country and scope of the problems it faces. South Africa was also very interesting because it is a country with high technology but with serious statistical problems. He has done consulting work not only for the UN Economic Commission of Africa but also for different organizations including the World Bank, IMF, Paris 21 and African Development Bank.

Prof. Kiregyera argues that the role of statistics in the development of a country is fundamental. \"There is the famous saying that if you cannot measure it you cannot manage it. And of the problems we have had in most developing countries is that we are not able to measure the size of the problem and when we begin to apply solutions we have no capacity to monitor the implementation to eventually evaluate the impact of the interventions or programs. So you need statistics and information to be able to monitor development.\"

The level of statistical development in East Africa and Africa in general is very low, Prof. Kiregyera observed. \"But of late there have been the renascence in Africa with more and more countries, people and institutions beginning to use statistics for planning, and decision-making. Today we are talking about evidence-based planning and decision-making which of course means using statistical data and information. Thanks to poverty eradication strategies that use a lot of data, which are data intensive. There is a general reawakening about the role of data and information for planning and decision-making.\"

He notes that the challenges of collecting statistical data on the continent are too many they include: resources for data collection in terms of money and people, methodology and procedures for data collection. There are areas like agriculture where methodological challenges are really daunting.

He describes his latest book titled, Household Surveys With Special Reference to Africa, that has become a standard text in statistical training in Africa, as widely used not only in Uganda but the whole of Africa. \"It is a down to earth user friendly book and the feedback I am getting is that it is well written and useful not only for statistics but also economics, sociology, social research and so on.\"

The level of statistical training in Africa, Prof. Kiregyera, says is low \"because in many countries we do not have statistics taught as a subject at university. It’s in countries where it is taught as a subject at university that we have a good number of graduates in statistics and good statistical systems taking root.\"

Prof. Kiregyera says that donors have been investing in statistical development in Africa over the last 40 years but the results are not commensurate with the amount of money that has gone into this investment. \"So it has been realized that perhaps we are doing the wrong thing and that the right thing is what we have now included in the guidelines for development in a Statistical Master Plan for Developing Countries. This master plan becomes a framework for mobilizing resources and all activities in the country to have a common frame for data collection in terms of methodology, concept, classification and so on. This framework is being recommended especially by what is called the Marrakech Action Plan for Statistical Development in developing countries as a good basis for developing national statistics in poor countries.\"

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