African Symposium on Statistical Development Emphasizes Central Role of Data in Development

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Focus on link between vital statistics and good governance in Africa

Described as both “highly relevant” and “timely”, the 9th African Symposium on Statistic Development opened on Monday, February 17 in Gaborone, Botswana, under the theme “Promoting the Use of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics in Support of Good Governance in Africa.”

In light of the recent call by the United Nations High-Level Panel on the Post 2015 Development Agenda that no person – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status – should be denied universal human rights and basic opportunities, the importance of reliable data to ensure sustainable and inclusive development was underscored by speakers during the opening ceremony.

The symposium theme “comes at a time when most African countries are implementing medium-term development strategies anchored on good statistics to inform the process,” Charles Lufumpa, Director of the African Development Bank Department of Statistics, said during his opening address. “It also comes at a time when the international community is preparing to transition to the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, with poverty eradication, broad-based inclusive growth and good governance at the core.

“The development path calls for a ‘Data Revolution’ in support of the post-2015 agenda, emphasizing the need for disaggregated baseline data to help monitor benchmarks, targets and development impacts.”

Those targets and development impacts can only be measured if we have reliable data to begin with, experts say, with accurate and up-to-date records on births, deaths, marriages and other vital statistics.

“More than 100 developing countries around the globe do not have complete and functional civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) systems,” said Ponatshego Kedikilwe, Vice-President of Botswana, who emphasized that credible statistics are needed to evaluate development programs, ensure good governance and prioritize funding.

“The scandal of invisibility is a scenario where many people are born, their existence not documented throughout their lifetime, and eventually passing on without being accounted for, primarily because in Government records they just do not exist,” he said, noting that the consequence of that invisibility is social exclusion. Identity is closely tied to human rights: the right to protection, education, employment; the right to own property, migrate or marry; and the right to vote.

To this end, the African Development Bank, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Union Commission (AUC), together with other development partners are working with African governments to build capacity and improve the processes for data-gathering and harmonization of statistics across the continent.

The Government of Botswana, in collaboration with the African Development Bank and the United Nations Population Fund, is undertaking a comprehensive assessment of its CRVS, Kedikilwe said. “This was done in a view to come up with a five-year strategic plan to guide implementation, monitoring and evaluation systems, determine timeliness of recording vital events, resources required and responsibilities for stakeholders,” he said, adding that he hoped the project’s successes would be shared with other African countries.

For his part, Stefan Schweinfest, Acting Director of the United Nations Statistics Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, based in New York, congratulated the organizers of the ASSD, calling it “highly relevant and timely.

“This symposium may be African, but its significance is global,” Schweinfest declared. “To put it in a simple phrase: Sustainable Development will need to be supported by Sustainable Statistics.”

Jointly organized by the African Development Bank, ECA, the AUC, Statistics South Africa and the Government of Botswana, the 9th African Symposium on Statistical Development runs until Friday, February 21. The five-day meeting brings together about 450 participants representing African countries’ statistics and civil registration offices, pan-African institutions, economists, researchers, statisticians, analysts and development partners.

At the closure of the 9th symposium, it is the expected the following will be endorsed:

  • A declaration specifying the commitments of Civil Registration Offices and NSOs in accelerating their efforts to reform the management and operations of CRVS systems for promoting good governance on the continent;
  • Strategies to be adopted by countries in implementing the most efficient business processes to achieve a complete and efficient CRVS system in the shortest possible time;
  • A time-bound roadmap for conducting country assessments and the development of national CRVS action plans in line with the declarations of the 2nd CRVS Ministers Conference; and
  • A statement on the inclusion of other statistical areas moving forward to 2063.