I was supposed to give the opening statement at the UNECA meetings, but due to unfortunate circumstances it got cancelled last minute. The press release sent out by Cornell University Press is below. The planned program is here. Other individuals and organizations have expressed their support in private, but it seems we are not yet quite ready for a public debate on the future of African economic statistics.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR AFRICA OPENING SPEECH ABRUPTLY CANCELLED DUE TO CONTROVERSY
LONDON (Wed Sep 18, 2013) – Professor Morten Jerven’s scheduled speech in Addis Ababa at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa on Tuesday was abruptly cancelled on Monday due to pressure from Pali Lehohla, General Statistician of South Africa, who said he would withdraw all of South Africa’s delegates from the meetings should Professor Jerven speak. “I was at the airport and about to board the plane, when I received a call from UNECA telling me not to go,” said Jerven. “It is unfortunate that some people perceive my book as a criticism of the people working in African Statistics, when my intent is to elevate the discussion on how to support African countries in improving their statistical systems.”
Morten Jerven has recently published Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It, which provides 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.
“I was invited to speak at PARIS21 and OECD on statistical capacity building in May this year, and that event was also officially ‘postponed’ due to a similar process,” said Jerven. “The findings in the book are peer-reviewed and reports from the African Development Bank and IMF have confirmed the same patterns. If Pali has questions about my report and its conclusions, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further in hopes of strengthening the development community’s understanding of the existing problems and improvement opportunities”
Derek Blades, formerly head of the OECD’s National Accounts Division and currently a consultant for the World Bank found the news disturbing and said, “Attempts to stifle free debate about statistics is simply unacceptable in my view.”
National Institute of Statistics of Cameroon issued a statement regarding the Paris21 talk saying that “Ultimately we have no objection to the article being presented, because all informed observers of the African continent recognize the significant progress already made, and that we must stay the course.”
CONTACT: Morten Jerven
PHONE: +1 778 987 3327 or +47 970 36 420
Morten Jerven is Associate Professor of International Studies at Simon Fraser University. His opening Statement “Why We Need to Invest in African Development Statistics: From a Diagnosis of Africa’s Statistical Tragedy towards a Statistical Renaissance” is based on his book Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It, published by Cornell University Press.