Even African heads of state are ignorant about what us going on in their own countries. They lack elementary data on birth, mortality and unemployment rates, economic performance, taxation and government spending. No country can do without reliable data. “It influences policy decisions and it influences whether you can measure what you intended to achieve,” said Anim van Wyk from the South Africa-based fact checking organization Africa Check. But data is expensive, he explained. “It can cost at least one dollar per person to conduct a census. So if you are a country like Nigeria with around 160 million people it will cost 160 million dollars.”
So most African countries face a data gap. The World Bank has devised a means of measuring it. The Statistical Capacity Indicator (SCI) provides a global comparison of the ability of individual countries to collect, analyze and disseminate data about their respective populations and economies. It takes into account the sources of the data, the methods and frequency of data collection. A country can have a SCI of between 0 and 100. A high figure says that a country is good at acquiring data and making constructive use of it.
Bottom of the African data league
Five African countries (10 to 6 on the league table) glow red on the World Bank’s map. Most of them cannot mobilize the funds and the human resources necessary for serious data collection because of civil war or political and social unrest.
The country on the Horn of Africa is at the bottom of the league table with an SCI of just 20 points. Data collection there has been steadily deteriorating since 2012, the year the first central government was installed after more than two decades civil of war.
The North African state scores 22.2 points. Its SCI has dropped by almost half since the start of the civil war in 2011. However, state authorities have at least conducted a population census within the last ten years.
The tiny country scores 27.8 index points. Eritrea is an economically and politically isolated dictatorship, in which persecution, forced labor, torture and arbitrary arrests are commonplace. According to the UN, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled their country.
7. South Sudan
With 34.4 points, the young nation has at least crossed the 30-point threshold. Hopes of peace and stability that accompanied South Sudan’s secession from Sudan in 2011 have yet to materialize. National data collection started in 2013 and since then its SCI has improved.
The best of the ‘worst’ five African countries in terms of statistical capacity lies on the Atlantic coast. Gabon has has an SCI of 40. Its oil-dependent economy went into a downturn when the price of crude collapsed on international markets. In 2014 the government was unable to pay civil servants’ salaries. The country is facing social unrest and strikes ahead of the 2016 presidential elections.
5. Equatorial Guinea
The tiny central African country has an SCI of 42.2. Still, it climbed ten points between 2013 and 2015. But it fails to deliver data on poverty, health, agriculture, deaths and births, though it conduct a population census.
This West African country’s data on agricultural production, poverty, births and deaths is poor. It has an SCI of 44.4. But its data on population and health has improved since 2010.
This country also has a poor record on statistics and has an SCI of 45.6. The effort it makes in collecting data on health, agriculture, population and poverty is minimal, though it does make available some information about birth and death rates.
The small country on the Horn of Africa has an SCI 46.7, just over one point ahead of Botswana.
Angola has an SCI of 47.8. This is well below the average for sub-Saharan African which is 59.9. Angola faces fiscal difficulties. It faces an expected shortfall in revenue of $30 billion (27 billion euros) for 2015 and has announced major budget cuts. Despite plans to revive agricultural production, no data is available about this sector.