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South Sudan launches its first GDP estimate

Thomas Danielewitz's picture

The dust had hardly settled from South Sudan’s Independence Day celebrations before the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of South Sudan formerly known as the Southern Sudan Center for Census, Statistics and Evaluation, released the new country’s first estimate of GDP. The long-awaited figures were revealed at a well-attended press conference at the NBS on 16 August 2011. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the event, but I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days in late July in the company of NBS’ Director of Economic Statistics, David Chan Thiang, and his small team of dedicated economists and statisticians.

It was a very positive experience. Despite obvious adversities in terms of staff and infrastructure, NBS has managed to publish a variety of high-quality statistical products since 2005 - primarily within demographic and social domains.

NBS seems particularly adept at dissemination and communication with a knack for writing clear and concise reports and making use of their well-structured website as the main dissemination tool: http://ssnbs.org/.

However, estimating GDP is very different from counting people, bed nets and toilets or recording health and education characteristics. It’s a difficult task to accurately estimate the production, consumption and investments of the myriad households, corporations and government institutions – especially given the scarce data available. In a poor-data environment, assumptions and guesstimates are needed to fill in the blanks, and national accountants have to be inventive and creative. It requires a lot of experience to do that well, and that’s when statistics become less of a science and more of an art.

The fact that NBS managed to pull off this feat is truly remarkable.The anticipation and attention to the release of the estimate added to the pressure on NBS.
Gross National Income (GNI)1 is used to determine the official income status of countries, and this determines potential access to concessional borrowing from international lenders such as the World Bank and IMF. The World Bank International Development Assistance (IDA) ceiling is currently a GNI of US$1,165 per capita.

So what was the verdict? It turns out that in terms of overall income generation; South Sudan does quite well compared to its neighbors in East Africa.GDP per capita in 2010 was estimated at US$1,546 compared to US$769 in Kenya and just US$189 in Burundi. As a result of the oil revenue sharing deal with the North, gross national income (GNI) is much lower GNI at US$984 per capita. But this is still significantly higher than any country in East Africa:

Table: GDP and GNI of East African Countries in 2010, million USD, current

source: GDP Press Release, South Sudan NBS, 11 August 2011

People visiting South Sudan may find these numbers surprising. As your airplane descends towards Juba Airport, you see grassland stretching endlessly, deserted in every direction. Compared to the bustling, congested streets of Nairobi, Kampala and Dar es Salaam, Juba seems quiet and provincial. The city has few paved roads and is almost devoid of multi-storey buildings. Poverty is rife, and the vast majority of the population still lives in rural areas in the traditional, thatched-roof houses with scant access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Mortality rates and illiteracy is high and basic services are largely inaccessible. It seems odd that this should be the richest country in East Africa in per capita terms.

However, to those familiar with South Sudan, the GDP numbers will be confirmation that the country is rich in oil and natural resources, but has yet to transform the abundant natural endowments into infrastructure and improved livelihoods.

Export of oil amounts to 71 percent of GDP, and oil revenue accounts for almost 98 percent of total Government revenue. Income inequality is high (Gini coeffient is 46)2, which may explain some of the mismatch, but more importantly, coming out of civil war and strife, the Government of South Sudan still spends around one third of the budget on “security and rule of law”3.

In terms of statistics, despite the initial success stories, a lot of challenges remain. South Sudan authorities are still disputing the population numbers from the 2008 Population and Housing Census, claiming that some areas in the south were not adequately covered. Some experts estimate that the official population of South Sudan of 8.3 million is probably closer to 9 million people. The Government has expressed plans to conduct a new Population and Housing Census within the next 5 years.

The first GDP estimate has been released, but economic statistics is still in its infancy in South Sudan. The new GDP figures were compiled using expenditure information, i.e. survey data on household consumption, government expenditure records, capital investment information, in addition to data on exports and imports. A stronger estimate could be constructed by estimating GDP from the production side, i.e. by collecting and aggregating the actual production volumes, values and costs of producers within agriculture, manufacturing, mining and quarrying and other important industries in the economy. The more information, the more robust the estimate, especially if the production and expenditure sides could be reconciled in a comprehensive and coherent supply-use table framework.

While the construction of a supply-use table is a medium to long-term objective for the NBS, the collection of industry data has already started. NBS has established a business register and the results of the first business survey are due shortly. The NBS is also in the planning phase of the first agricultural survey. Statistics Norway is supporting the initiative through financial and technical assistance, and the IMF has established a trust fund to support economic statistics.  

The World Bank will soon be joining ranks with other donors supporting statistics in South Sudan. So far a US$424,000 grant from the Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building has been approved to support priority activities in the coming years. This includes training and study visits on economic statistics and technical assistance on designing the National Strategy for Development of Statistics (NSDS).

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1. GNI is defined as GDP less net payments to the rest of the world
2. National Baseline Household Survey 2010, SSCCSE
3. Key Indicators for Southern Sudan, SSCCSE, 8 February 2011

Comments

Submitted by Denis Biseko on
Thank you for informing us about the good work being done by the Southern Sudan NBS. Availability of data is essential for any kind of intervention in such a country, especially when our focus these days is more on results. A good example is on the high Gini coefficient which reflects high inequality and whether the leadership is sensitive to this scenario, which may reflect a high level of unemployment and the need to put people to productive work as an issue of priority.

Submitted by Jared Osoro on
Reading your post, I wouldn't help but recall a very annoying cover of 'The Economist' magazine sometime in 2000 that screamed: "Africa: The Hopeless Continent". Its thesis was that the continent can register good performance on account of "good weather" or "bad statistics". I hope that the challenges to GDP estimation that you highlight are not a pointer to the likelihood of the numbers not being accurate.

Submitted by Meseret Molla Kassahun on
Dear All, Learning from data is a good experiance. It is good and continue your effort to record data.

Submitted by Anonymous on
How would you measure GDP in Agriculture sector in South Sudan when most of it is done in small scale and hidden production? The young nation will see stability until its enact large scale Agriculture projects to supply food to the populations. Even in service industry which dominates other sectors but not add value to GDP. GOSS must understand that an Hungry man prefer food on the table than crape polices.

Submitted by Freedom on
Having spent time providing medical care in South Sudan pre and post independence I can tell you there have been improvements. In 2006 half the children died by age 5 so there was nowhere to go but up. However the average person in South Sudan is much poorer than those neighboring countries. Besides the inequality, it's the extreme corruption that's the problem. Even on East African standards this corruption is off the charts. The line drawn by oil rich Abyei will have no impact on the average person in South Sudan. The leadership comprised mainly of Dinka are robbing their fellow tribesmen and countrymen blind.

I do not know about 2011 GDP projection of SS but I think the situation you mentioned here is still same and nothing improved. After blockage of oil pipeline by Sudan, the situation here is extremely worsen. But, when I came here personally, I was wondering how they can translate their resources into infrastructure and how the actual general public will get benefit of that. Experience of some of the other African countries in resource utilization is not that promising, in this context we still need time to see How South Sudan can do that being new state also. It is really good that WB is investing in statistics, which may help to shape policy if the political leadership show some good intention.

Submitted by Alessandro romeo on
Hi Thomas, Would not be good to try and measure income? I m currently at FAO and work on the RIGA project http://www.fao.org/economic/riga/ I was also a former consultant at the wb and I implemented the sseps, a phone based survey in ss - have u heard about it? We have something like 20 countries we have already measured income. interested? A

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