Africa: poor data quality leads to poor information quality

14 mai 2021

The collection, maintenance and access to quality data are still challenging in Africa. However, data quality remains a critical issue both as decision-making tool, developments tools and raw material for the quality of information.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for quality data but also the fundamental gaps in collecting and disseminating health and civil data. According to a survey conducted by the BBC and the African Center for Statistics of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Africa (UNECA), only eight countries out of 55 have functional death registration systems: Egypt, South Africa and Tunisia, Algeria and the Cape Verde Islands, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles and Mauritius. In Ethiopia, Chad and Zambia, less than 10% of children under 7 have been recorded in the population registers.

 A growing demand for data

Without quality data, there is no quality information and no effective tool to help decision-making. Without reliable and accurate data, how can we take appropriate decisions in terms of prevention and health care? How do people exercise their citizenship if they don’t exist anywhere? How can journalists properly inform if they do not have the raw material for quality information? In addition, data can be also considered in terms of opportunities for entrepreneurs who would like to take advantage of new technologies for which having reliable, accurate and timeliness data is a necessity. However, having the data is not all: it is still necessary to well analyze, interpret and tell it within good stories.

According to the African Union’s Agenda for 2063, twenty sustainable development goals should be achieved, but how to measure these targets and indicators if we do not have sufficient statistical resources? At the same time, the development of active policies for the collection and dissemination of public data is not without raising new challenges: those of trust in data, those of privacy protection, those of data governance, and those of technical expertise which are also related to training and continuing education issues.

However, the situation is gradually improving. Over the past decade, the Statistical Capacity Index (SCI) measured by the World Bank shows an increase of 1.2 points from 2004 to 2019. But an index of 57.2 points is little. Also, the African average remains low compared to the Asia-Pacific zone (65.5) or Europe (70.3).

Reducing the data gap

It is on the basis of these observations that the Statistical Partnership for Development in the 21st Century (PARIS21) and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF) questioned how to strengthen statistical data on the African continent. In a 48-page working document, published on April 30, six recommendations are put forward to bridge the data-policy gap. These recommendations are intended for national statistical offices and governments to improve the production and use of data in evidence-based policy making. The data gap is not only a question of available resources. Also, the document underlines that few governments refer to statistics in their political documents: 27% for all African countries, while Central Africa and North Africa pull this indicator down.

The first recommendation concerns the strengthening of statistical capacities, which requires funding whether national or within the framework of development cooperation partnerships. The second recommendation concerns the recruitment of qualified professionals, which could be stimulated by partnerships with universities and e-learning programs.

Open data and transparency

“Open data is the basis of transparency”, emphasizes the third recommendation, “but it does not guarantee its use”. One effective key is to connect data to their potential users, according to the principle of fitness for use. It should also be part of a communications strategy including regular press briefings and social media campaigns. Open data portals are, of course, at the center of this transparency strategy. While most African countries use an open data portal, nothing is said about the intrinsic quality of these portals, which are connected to their relevance or their maintenance over time. If we take the example of Burundi, an independent press group, Iwacu, has decided to launch its own open data portal not only for being transparent about the work of its data journalist team, but also to make it profitable to those who wish to have reliable and accurate data about the country.

The fourth recommendation concerns the recognition of the importance of statistics in the development of economic and social policies. This requires what the fifth recommendation recommends: the creation of a legal framework for technological developments and the reuse of data (sharing, storage, management of privacy, etc.). « In countries where this framework already exists, their implementation and application must be closely monitored, and any abuse punished. »

Finally, to encourage the use of data for decision-making, the sixth recommendation calls for encouraging public officials to use more and better data. Training is one of the keys to improving the competence of operational staff and managers in statistical institutes.


 The working paper “Bridging the data-policy gap in Africa” is available on this page.
# #