Opening remarks


Draft Opening remarks


First Joint Session of ECA-AU Statistical Commission for Africa and Committee of Directors General of National Statistical Offices


10 December 2014

Tunis, Tunisia


Honorable Minister of Economic Planning of the Tunisian Republic, ably represented by the State Minister

Mr. Hédi Saïdi, Directeur General de Statistique Tunisie

Dr. Anthony Mothae Maruping, AU Commissioner for Economic Affairs

Mr. Stefan Scheinfest, Director of the United Nations Statistics Division

Mr. Pali Lehohla, Chair of the Africa Symposium on Statistical Development

Mr. Oliver Chinganya, Manager Statistical Capacity Development Division of the African Development Bank

Distinguished Representatives of International Institutions

Distinguished Partners in African Statistical and Geospatial Information Development

Statisticians General and Directors of National Statistical Offices and Institutes

Surveyors General and Directors of National Mapping Agencies

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,


On behalf of the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Mr. Carlos Lopes, I wish to express our deepest gratitude to the government and people of the Tunisian Republicfor co-organizing and hosting this first joint session of the ECA Statistical Commission and the AU Committed of Directors General, along with the inaugural session of the African Committee of Experts on the United Nations Global Geospatial Information Management.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Since your last session in 2012, the global spotlight has been focused on statistics through the call for a data revolution, as a prerequisite for the next development agenda to replace the Millennium Development Goals. You have been urged to reform. To embrace new ideas and seek out new partnerships; to do things in innovative ways to ensure that there are data to support development.

In ECA, we also arrived at the same conclusion that we need to reform statistics. For one, we wish to see more resources committed to statistics to support the structural transformation of our economies. Note that we are not talking about structural adjustment, but rather about structural transformation. This involves transfer of resources from low to high productivity sectors. It requires a significant change in the sectoral composition of GDP, “[…] with the share of the primary sector in the employment shifting to industry and modern services, and a greater use of technology and increased productivity across sectors.”

To do that, we need to know the current composition of our GDP. We need to know what resources we have. We need to know the contribution of the various sectors. We need to know how many we are and what we are currently doing. We need to know how the dividends of our efforts are being distributed. There is a lot that we need to know before we can start looking at the efficiencies to decide how to shift resources from low to high productivity. And that is where this community comes in. Without statistics, we cannot know these things.

And so we placed statistics at the core of the reform of the great changes that have taken place in ECA since the arrival of the Executive Secretary. The most significant of these changes is the strengthening and expansion of ECA’s statistical sub programme. The number of professional positions in the African Centre for Statistics has been expanded significantly. In addition to this large centre, the sub regional offices have been refocused to include a data centre in each sub regional office. So in addition to the African Centre for Statistics that you have been dealing with, the SROs will become additional interfaces for our interaction with you, especially on issues relating to data collection. By increasing the number of staff working on data – direct staff, not consultants – and placing them as close as possible to the sources, being your respective offices, we hope to reduce, if not completely eliminate, the discrepancies between what is happening in Africa and the perception by the international community.

We want Africa to control its own narrative. And that starts with generating the data, ourselves, that will inform the narrative. We need more data to support our research and analyses and the decisions that emanate from them. But, equally important, we need to make the data available to others who want to talk about us to use the same data. Otherwise they would use whatever they can get and arrive at incorrect conclusions. And that is why we have to join the open data movement. We need to see more involvement of the statistics community in this movement than we currently have. That was why we, together with our partners, chose that as the theme of this year’s Africa statistics day celebration.

But the open data concept is just one of many data related innovations sweeping the world. At the production end of the continuum, there are big data,crowd sourcing,web scraping, real time mobile trackers, self-reporters, etc. And at the presentation end, there are infographics and visualization. All these innovations affect our work. But we, statisticians globally, cannot be expected to dabble into all that. We would only spread ourselves too thin to be effective.

That is why at the Africa level, we are emphasizing the call for new partnerships for the data revolution. Not only the global partnerships, but the partnership between us and the other data communities in Africa.There are all these data needs that fall outside the ambit of “official statistics,” which our decision makers and communities need for inclusive development and accountability. Rather than try to take them all on and set ourselves up for failure, we are identifying the various data communities that already have the appropriate expertise to provide the relevant solutions, and then to bring those data communitiestogether to work for the collective good. That way we can ensure that our knowledge about important principles for handling data are applied to the solutions they would propose.

But we need to understand the whole data revolution concept to drive it. We need to embrace it. Imbibe it. Only then can we play that central role expected of us. And is why we are organizing a media event on the data revolution as part of this meeting, which is actually a lead up to a high level conference on the data revolution to be held in March 2015.

And talking about the data revolution and data communities, brings me to one important data community that we cannot do without them and they cannot do without us. I’m talking about the geospatial information management community.  The Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management has been established, and the process of integration between statistics and geospatial information has been initiated. For us in ECA, we have already accepted that the two communities need to work closely together to provide the information that the world needs to address development issues. Everything we do, every intervention, has to happen somewhere. So geography and statistics are inseparable. That is why, as part of the reform I talked about earlier, ECA’s geospatial information programme was moved to the African Centre for Statistics. And the work programme approved for us by ECOSOC provides that the membership of our intergovernmental body, this Statistical Commission for Africa, includes geospatial information management experts.  And so, this joint session also features the launch of the African committee on global geospatial information management, with one joint plenary session between the two communities.

I cannot close without referring to the theme for this year’s joint session of StatCom-Africa and CoDG, which is on“Strengthening the production of agricultural statistics in Africa for better monitoring and evaluation of CAADP.”The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) is Africa’s commitment to “reach a higher path of economic growth through agriculture-led development, which eliminates hunger, reduces poverty and food insecurity, and enables expansion of exports.” The revised results framework of CADDP reiterates the need for data and information for ensuring mutual accountability to actions and results.  One of the strategic action areas is therefore to “strengthen and align data and knowledge support and use to consolidate improvements in analysis and planning, evidence-based review, accountability and learning.” What crops are we producing? Are they being produced at appropriate places, vis-à-vis the climatic and ecological conditions?How much food is being produced now? How much land do we have?  Who is working the land? What social services do we provide for them to ensure adequate quality of life for them? How much of our products are we exporting? In what forms? Can we increase the value-addition before exporting? What non-tariff barriers do our farmers face and how can we eliminate the conditions that result in them?

We can see from these questions that agriculture is strongly linked to – and in many African economies the starting point of – the structural transformation agenda.  To ensure this interconnectedness, we should ensure that agricultural statistics is provided for in our national strategies for the development of statistics. We need to adopt an integrated approach to the production of statistics that includes not only the count of crop and food production and exports, but other emergent issues that are relevant to agriculture and transformation. Some of these are climate change statistics, environmental statistics, information technology, mobile telephony and connectivity, and many more areas which would help us hasten the production of timely, quality and reliable agricultural information.   Given the contribution of agriculture to many of our economies, an appropriate proportion of resources available for statistics, meagre as they are, should be allocated to the wider scope agricultural statistics.

We should also take stock of, and positively exploit, existing global and regional initiatives for improving agricultural statistics.  One such initiative is the Global Strategy for Improving Agricultural and Rural Statistics. Let me conclude on a positive tone by noting that Africa is leading the technical assistance and training components of this global strategy, through the African Development Bank and ECA respectively.

On that note, ladies and gentlemen, let me reiterate our gratitude to the peoples and governmentof the Tunisian Republic for their hospitality, to our partners for their continued support, and to all of you for your energies.