Statistics in African countries cannot be trusted, claims Morten Jerven in his book Poor Numbers.
Jerven, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, presented a seminar via Skype to the Power Reporting Conference in Johannesburg, based on his latest book which claims that the statistics sub-Saharan countries use to calculate gross domestic product (GDP) and national income (NI) are “inaccurate” and full of “discrepancies” and thus cannot be used to give a clear indication of actual African development.
[pullquote]When you get statistics [in Africa], you aren’t getting facts but a mere image of state statistics that tell you the political priorities of a country[/pullquote]The book was the main point of contention at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in September where South Africa’s statistician-general Pali Lehohla demanded Jerven’s keynote address be cancelled. “We are misled by African development statistics. It is important to show African statistics are of a dubious nature,” Jerven said.
“When you get statistics [in Africa], you aren’t getting facts but a mere image of state statistics that tell you about the political priorities of a country.” Jerven based these claims on qualitative studies that included general surveys, in-depth interviews at statistical offices, interviews with central banks and donors’ missions in countries including Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.
He did not carry out any statistical analysis and neglected to use quantitative methodology in his research. This neglect gained him his harshest critic yet, Lehohla. In an interview with the Daily Maverick on September 26, Lehohla said Jerven failed to read and acknowledge the work that had already been done on the subject within Africa. Lehohla also said Jerven failed to make a comparative analysis with countries outside Africa, making his conclusions “invalid” and “unscholarly”.
- Daily Maverick, September 2013: Analysis: Don’t touch me on my statistics – Pali Lehohla pulls the plug on UNECA speaker.