Morten Jerven Responds to Being Blocked from Speaking on African Statistics at UNECA
Morten Jerven was scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in Addis Ababa but shortly before boarding his plane he was informed that his speech had been cancelled, reports Simon Allison for the Daily Maverick.
Jerven was planning on giving a presentation on the findings from his book, Poor Numbers: How we are mislead by African development statistics and what to do about it, and found out that it was statistician-general, Pali Lehohla, from Statistics South Africa, that had requested that the talk be cancelled.
Lehohla has criticised Jerven’s book but “Several statisticians surveyed by Daily Maverick agreed with Jerven: there’s nothing wrong with his research, and his key finding – that African statistics are generally poor, and not really good enough to base policy off – is uncontroversial”.
Read the full article on Lehohla’s objections to Jerven and his response to this:
Morten Jerven was on his way to Addis Ababa to deliver a keynote speech on Tuesday at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), when suddenly he wasn’t. Waiting to board a plane in Vancouver he got a message and then a phone call telling him not to bother. His speech had been cancelled.
Jerven, understandably, was a little aggrieved. He has just written a book – Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It – and he was due to present his findings to the one group of people who could actually use them: the assembled economists, development specialists and statisticians attending what is Africa’s major economic talk shop.
Jerven also wrote an article on African Arguments about the incident, saying that “Pali Lehohla and his counterparts are doing well in the current system. Any change to the status quo in the political economy of statistics in Africa is considered a threat”.
Discussing economic statistics and GDP estimates of African economies is clearly important, but it’s also sensitive. Pali Lehohla and his self-proclaimed union of ‘African Statisticians’ are allied in a self-defeating campaign.
My book Poor Numbers has created an unprecedented argument for investing in the statistical capacity of African countries. Why would Lehohla and his silent supporters go against this? The answer is simple. Pali Lehohla and his counterparts are doing well in the current system. Any change to the status quo in the political economy of statistics in Africa is considered a threat.
African Arguments has published the talk that Jerven would have given at UNECA:
There is a growing demand for economic statistics on the progress of African economies. This demand for data will be met. The key question is how these data by will supplied. Who will supply these data? What quality of data will be supplied, and how will the demand for data affect the governance of the central data suppliers – and key among them – the national statistical office. This meeting is specifically addressing the future of the provision of GDP statistics, and how to improve the data needed for economic governance of African economies.
In my book, Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It, I provide a scholarly and objective analysis of historical and contemporary problems confronting statisticians in Africa. The book argues that one of the most urgent challenges in African economic development is to devise a strategy for improving statistical capacity. At the center of such efforts is the statistical office, which has long been neglected in debates on development in the African region.
- Poor Numbers: How we are mislead by African development statistics and what to do about it by Morten Jerven
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