Africa Set for Smart Censuses through Mobile Tech and Internet by 2020

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By 2020, African countries will fully exploit mobile devices and the internet to conduct demographic and housing censuses more speedily and cost effectively, hence enhancing decision making for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This is what underpins a training workshop for high-level statisticians from all over Africa, taking place in Yaounde, Cameroon, at the behest of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in partnership with the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) and the Government of Cameroon.

The Yaounde encounter which has brought together over 40 experts is the last in a series of regional consultations coordinated by the United Nations Statistics Division in order to get feedback on draft guidelines on the use of electronic data collection technologies in population and housing censuses that will serve as reference at the global level once finalized.

The workshop, which has been described as ‘timely’ by various stakeholders, comes at a time when the world counts about 5 billion mobile telephone network subscribers, from all walks of life, who could be linked through the right platforms and technologies to facilitate data collection and the conduct of modern censuses.

his will “provide speed, accuracy, ubiquity, familiarity and convenience” which “can yield good value for money results in such complex operations as population censuses” as the Director of the Sub-Regional Office for Central Africa of ECA, Mr. Antonio Pedro underscored.

Mr. Pedro however cautioned that the use of such technologies in censuses may come with challenges including “those related to technology changes, speed of change and resistance to change, high training costs and data security.” This, he said, calls for “collaboration between institutions in the use of mobile technology in order to better tackle new challenges and harness the full potential offered by mobile technology to the community of official statistics.”

Such collaboration is already being well played out between Cameroonian and Malian statisticians as pointed out by Dr Teke Johnson Takwa who heads the Unit for Data Analysis of Cameroon’s Central Bureau for Census and Population Studies (BUCREP).

He said following the first phase of the 10th Development Account project on the use of mobile and internet devises for censuses, conducted by ECA, BUCREP has been for there years effectively using the devices alongside other techniques Cameroon acquired from that phase with positive results and has shared its advanced experiences with Malian counterparts.

Dr Takwa and his colleague of Cameroon’s National Institute of Statists (NIS) – Mr. Anaclet Désiré Dzossa, were thankful to ECA’s African Centre for Statistics (ACS) for operationalizing the said Development Account in Africa since 2015, which has given them the tools and techniques that Cameroon has so far used in three major areas: carrying out surveys of market item prices, collecting data around tobacco consumption and conducting Cameroon’s 5th demographic survey (which is ongoing).

As the consultations for finalizing the UNSD guidelines come to an end with this last series of workshops to enhance census processes by 2020, the UNSD is making sure statisticians in Africa, like their colleagues elsewhere, are are on the same page on the use of electronic data collection technologies in population and housing censuses.

This explains the presence of Ms. Meryem Demirci, UNSD’s Interregional Advisor on Population and Housing Censuses, at the Yaounde meeting. UNSD also hopes to use the Yaounde workshop to collect input from the African statisticians in attendance, to perfect the guidelines in question, for use across the globe.

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