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Q&A with Rose Mungai: The Woman Behind the Stats

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As a World Bank Senior Economist and Statistician, I am responsible for compiling data from various sources to produce the Africa Development Indicators (ADI), an annual report of the most detailed collection of development data on Africa.
Whenever I mention numbers and data and tables, most people’s eyes glaze over and they shut down. But data can tell a mountain of a story, especially for African policymakers charged with developing policies that support development and economic growth. Without data, how would leader’s plan and design policies? How could they do anything without knowing where they are coming from, to where they’re going to?
Here’s more information about the ADI’s, and how the annual data collection not only helps African leaders, but also helps to inform citizens who can then hold them accountable. 

Image1. What is the Africa Development Indicators (ADI)?
The ADI is an annual publication of relevant and internationally comparable statistics about Africa. It is the most detailed collection of data on Africa, designed as both a quick reference and a reliable dataset for monitoring development programs and aid in the region.
Produced by the World Bank Africa’s Poverty Reduction and Economic Management unit, the ADI is an invaluable tool for analysts and policy makers who want a better understanding of Africa’s economic and social development. Although the ADI is about Africa, the main focus is on Sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 48 of the 53 African countries.
The ADI contains macroeconomic, sector, and social indicators for 53 countries. The companion CD-ROM has additional data, with some 1,700 indicators covering 1961-2011, which is freely available. This will allow countries and their development partners to assess the magnitude of problems, challenges they face, and to measure progress over time. Better statistics are of great value and this still remains a great challenge for Africa.
Other companion products include the The Little Data Book on Africa and The Little Data Book on Gender in Africa, which provide an at-a-glance view of indicators for each economy. A new version of the DataFinder mobile application is available for the Android and iPhone. This may be downloaded from the Apple store.
2. When did the World Bank start collecting data from African countries?  
The ADI is a continuation of the African Economic and Financial Data (AEFD) publication series started by the World Bank published jointly with the United Nations Development Programme in 1989. This was followed in 1992, and afterward, an annual series was published. Each successive volume provides access to more focused information and represents an improvement in the quality and availability of the data.
Volumes up to 2005 were extremely large, however, in 2006 there was a revamp and the book reduced from 400 pages to less than 200. From 2006-2009, a special essay topic was part of the ADI volumes. Since April 2010 the World Bank made all its data freely available. As a result from 2010 the special essay topic was removed and currently the data publishes a few tables but the online data contains about 1,700 indicators which are updated at least twice a year.
3. Why are the ADIs important to development? Why is the data important to countries and why is it important for the World Bank to help gather the data?
Monitoring Africa's development progress and aid support requires basic empirical data that people can readily use. The ADI is just that; it’s the kind of tool that is both easily accessible, and easy to use. To provide data in a systematic, easy to use format, we use a common approach to process the information we collect from a variety of sources. The single approach ensures that data can be compared across countries and over time for most of the indicators highlighted in the ADI.
The three objectives for creating easily accessible ADI data are:

  • To greatly increase the potential and the efficiency of using data in analytical and operational work at country or regional levels;
  • To signal the country and regional social economic developments in a timely fashion - specifically, development monitoring and analysis could be conducted between countries or geographic regions, as well as over time and across countries in relative terms, and
  • To develop capacity building in the countries so as to build a standard and stable statistical data warehouse focusing on national ownership in the reporting data process.
4. Who provides the data? Why is it in the country's best interest to gather the data for their country?
The data are from a variety of sources. In most cases, the original source is national statistical offices in Africa. In addition, many international agencies collect or compile data on Africa and organize data in a harmonized framework. The data are also supplemented by World Bank staff estimates to address problems of missing or inconsistent data.
Despite the gains made in recent years, African countries still continue to face persistent, long-term development challenges. Undiversified production structure, low human capital, weak governance, state fragility, women’s empowerment, youth employment, and climate change are among the key challenges. With increased demand for information to monitor the development programs as well as access to electronic media widening in Africa, countries are expected to continue evolving with the goal of offering the most valuable information to monitor development progress. The weak link between data collection, compilation and use of data must trigger a sense of ownership, and make country governments accountable to its citizens, as the lack of adequate data poses a threat in devising appropriate policies and interventions.

Country data serves as a prime source of information about the country. Its wide dissemination to African and non-African analysts and policy makers contribute to a better understanding of Africa and to development on the continent. Good, adequate data helps in designing programs and in monitoring and evaluation, therefore it is in the country's best interest to gather the data for their country.

5. How does the data help you recognize trends in SSA?
The time series data from 1960 to the most current year on indicators provide a useful means of comparisons across countries and over time.  For some of the indicators which are available internally comparisons across regions may be done.  For example, if the education data is from the Ministry of Education, the government may compare enrollments within the country for the different region. The ADI does not input data at the regional level, but takes into account the aggregate national data that represents the country.
6. What are some of the most interesting trends that this year's data has shown?
Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with its 844 million people in 48 countries accounting for 12.4% of the world’s population. SSA continues to present the world with its most formidable development challenge with the continued high birth rates and young population – SSA total fertility rate is 4.9% compared to 2.5% for the world, and the highest in any region, while 42.5% of the SSA population is under the age of 15. For over a decade, Sub-Saharan Africa has been experiencing relatively rapid economic growth, averaging about five percent a year. Life expectancy has increased, as mortality rates have dropped dramatically compared to a decade ago.
A central question is why Africa is doing so much better today than it was, say, twenty years ago. The answer includes several factors, such as debt relief, increased aid, high commodity prices, as well as improved macroeconomic policies. These policies are the result of decisions by African policy makers who, in turn, are increasingly accountable to their citizens. And an informed citizenry is better able to hold its leaders to account.
7. How do you compile the data?
At the World Bank, each Country Economist harnesses data from the country using the data reporting tool known as the 2nd Generation Live Database (2gLDB) system, which instantly recalculates all indicators and aggregates them when data is updated. The data are also supplemented by World Bank staff estimates to help address problems of missing or inconsistent data from standard sources. Some of the estimation methods may differ from methods used by other sources, but usually the estimation is highly robust.
Still, substantial data gaps remain, notably in the areas of public enterprise, gender and poverty, among others. Strengthening the statistical capacity in African counties will be fundamental and is an ongoing process. Greater efforts and institutional support will be required if substantial improvements are to be made in data compilation.


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