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Sub-Saharan African countries in general, and more specifically, those located within the geographical intervention sphere of AFRISTAT have been gripped for almost three decades by economic crises and socio-political changes which impact on statistical development in this region and determine the demand for statistics in a critical manner.

Indeed, the 1980s were marked by worsening economic and financial crises and across-the-board implementation in these countries of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) followed by the component “Social Dimension of Adjustment” introduced by the Bretton Woods institutions. The SAP gave room for a huge demand for relevant statistics which could not be readily satisfied by National Statistical Systems (NSS).

Moreover, the policy shift toward the restoration of major macroeconomic balances resulted in the concentration of the meagre resources for the compilation of national accounts, public finance and balance of payment statistics at the expense of social or sectoral statistics (agriculture, health, education, employment, etc.) statistics. Priority was hence given to economic statistics at the expense of social and poverty-related statistics. It is also worth noting that the problems, notably institutional and budgetary, encountered in the production of statistics varied depending on the oversight organisation, notably central banks in respect of monetary and balance of payments statistics1 .

After two decades of SAPs, the outcome of the structural reforms implemented generally contrasted with sound macroeconomic performance and low levels of social development thereby widening disparities and dwindling standards of living of the population. These mixed results prompted the international community to convene a number of summits (Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, Development in Libreville in 1999, Millennium Development Goals in New York in 2000, etc.) to rethink development strategies centred on :

  • the need to shift development policies toward poverty reduction strategies modelled on “Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers” (PRSP), notably the launching of the “Heavily Indebted Poor Country” (HIPC) Initiative that enables countries to qualify for a reduction of their external debt and to use the leveraged resources for poverty reduction;
  • resource mobilization to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015.

More recently, the Marrakech International Roundtable held in February 2004 emphasized the need for a result-oriented monitoring and management of development2 . The implemention of all these initiatives requires a critical mass of statistical information to be furnished appropriately by NSS in compliance with the basic principles of official statistics, recommendations of the IMF General Data Dissemination System (GDDS) and requirements set during the Marrakech meeting.

In other words, a return to the practice of development planning for the implementation of poverty reduction strategies restores the role of decision-making support services. PRSP formulation, implementation and evaluation are an opportunity but also bear risks for national statistics systems. It is an opportunity because all the stakeholders in the PRSP formulation process need reliable statistics and stand ready to fund its production. The risk lies in the fact that users want immediate and a large number of complex indicators which can only be determined on the basis of available relevant statistics whose production requires much time, appropriate data and trade-offs by several decision-making organs.

Monitoring of indicators requires the establishment of NSS which are capable of producing statistics on a regular basis gathered from adminsitrative documents or periodical surveys on households or other entities, notably companies. It actually entails human and financial investments that are time-bound. The PARIS21 initiative and national statistical development strategies actions are a top priority and induce a marked policy shift of States in regard to sound development management.

In socio-political matters, in the early 1990s, the advent of democracy and ensuing decentralization and devolution raised awareness among all socio-economic and cultural stakeholders on the importance of reliable information to back good governance as advocated by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and through the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM).

Within the context of economic liberalization and globalization, there is a greater need for economic integration among countries of the region. It is in this context that the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) gathering 14 out of the 17 Member States of AFRISTAT were founded in 1994. Such integration efforts require comparative statistics compiled in keeping with harmonized methods.

From the foregoing, there have been significant reforms in the statistical environment of the geographical sphere of AFRISTAT. These changes engender new requirements in methods, human resources, logistics, etc. to enable NSS, where they are fulfilled, to meet new data production, analysis and dissemination standards, in a timely and efficient manner.

At the dawn of the launching of the second operational phase of AFRISTAT, despite an encouraging 5% growth recorded by the economies of the sub-region and a 2.7% rise in per capita income in 2004, social disparities and poverty are persistent while prospects to halve poverty by 2015 are fading. Development strategies for the coming years should therefore hinge on more available and relevant data and evaluations to guide decision-makers more objectively.

AFRISTAT whose overarching objective is to contribute to the development of economic, social and environmental statistics in Member States as well as strengthen their capacities in these areas gives consideration to these developments in the design of its strategic plan of activities for 2006-2010.

1 In WAEMU and CEMAC States, balance of payments is drawn up by the Central Bank except in Cameroon where it is the ambit of the Ministry of the Economy and Finance.

2Cf. www.worlbank.org/data/results.html and Issue No. 28 of La lettre d’AFRISTAT.

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Introduction Tables of contents 1.2. Analysis of the demand for NSS support