Created: 9/1/1964

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TITLE: African Numbers Game AUTHOR: Walter McDonald




A conection c4 article* on the historical, operational, doctrinal, and theoretical aspects ol tatdligencc.

All statements of fact, opinion or analysis expressed in Studies in Intelligence are those of

the authors They do not necessarily reflect official positions or views of the Central Intelligence Agency or any other US Government entity, past or present Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying US Government endorsement of an article's factual statements and interpretations.

Expoti: The artificiality of socio-economic statistics on the new nations.


t?jR>cofop^ African state* .has" been "reflectedrolifnatioo of US. gpverprnont publications, inducing intelligence papers, on these countries. The National Intelligence Survey program has sharply Increased both the coverage of its series on Africa and the frequency with which articles are updated. National Intelligence Estimates on the area have multiplied Mora recently there haveumber of National Policy Papers. Theserequire, in varying degree, supporting socioeconomic statistics.inimum they are likely to carry population data (present site and rate ofross National Product, and per capita variations on the CNP theme. Many, if not most, such statistics contained in thesedrawing prestige from the high classification at the top and bottom of everypatently absurd

Netkmal Accounts

Official numbers coming out of tropical Africa are apt to be more misleading than helpful The state ofhesedeveloping, to use the second-generationcountries is such that tbe elaborate statistical organizations taken for granted in the industrial West put do not exist. Many kinds of data considered basic to economic measurement simply are cot available, and where data does exist it is often suppressed or grossly distorted by government leaders for assorted political purposes. Despite these obstacles, numbers which suggest great accuracy are continuallyfa intelligence rwbUcadons and by repetition have quickly gained currency.

Emergent nations promptly acquire the accepted badges ofan than, national flower and bird They also, largely becausewell asof financial aid insist, soon formulate devekipTnent plans, make population esti-


m*. in



mates, arid devise systems of national accounts. reasonable

meat planning and population estimating are defensible andnational accounting to most african countries is by almostludicrous. and tho countries that fail to provide their

national accounts sod in washington people eager to play the malce-bclieve game for them.

the theoretical and practical problems of calculating nationalfor underdeveloped countries with very urge non-monetized

- v,

formidable ones that would be of interest chiefly to

economists were ft not for tbe current propensity of the policy

and others to make welfare comparisons among african countries and

between africa and the rest of tbe world. to suggest by statistical

comparison, such as is contained in the cia-prepared basic intelligence

factbook, tbat cameroon,per capita cnphade

better off than the malagasy republicper capita cnp"

misleads rather than informs. the uselessness of such comparisons

has been pointed out by one economist as follows:

ha usual afrkaa economic iggreffitej am certainlyt present for mostelfare coenoaiuooi uuog pee capitan obviously noote&rlcal when income estimates ihemselve* are in part derived by multiptyiag per captti averager ot doubtful accuracy by population ertnutei equallyto error.'

tbe development of national accounts which reflect thoophisticated process,reat quantity andaccurate statistics. it is the more practicable the finalwor subsistence, sector, for it involves valuing theof the whole economy, including, in the case of africa, thethose wbo live by the shifting agriculture of the bush and theprimitive hunting-and-6sbing societies: and villageo not forward detailed statistical reports on wages,village government services to central statistical offices

in this situation, economists resort to imputation. prices arewhere in fact money prices don't exist, to goods andthe subsistence sector; huts are valued and given rates ofthe figures for tbe prcduots of one person ore summed,by the estimated subsistence population, and lumped withof the monetary sector. when this total is divided by the

*p. ady, Africa*o* and Wea&fc (london,




f umatod population of both sectors combined, the result is thecalled per capita CNP. which ts supposed to tell something about the nature of tbe economy and its rate of growth.

National accounting is most useful when applied to modernBut even when naoonal accounts are quite accurately developed they are often used improperly, and the resulting comparisons are sometimes ridiculous. What useful purpose, for example, is servedinding that Kuwait3 bad the highest per capita national facocoe in (he wcjdd-tteWO

Head Counts

Let us look closer, not at statistical practices Involving complex concepts or requiring some ecctrwmic sophistication, but at the simpler matter of counting population. Triis, perhaps the most basic of all statistics,uilding block for most of the more complicated economic and social aggregates and the one from which all per capita series are derived Unless population statistics are relatively accurate andthe economic aggregates derived from them can only be wrong, the sole question being how wrong. From Our survey of African censuses we conclude that tbe officially released economic and social aggregates for roost of these countries must be wildly erroneous.

Census-taking In tropical Africa is subject to all of the technical difficulties It encounters In mdustrial societies. In addition ft fa hampered by special circumstances typical of countries with large subsistence sectors and alio by factors peculiar to the African scene. Finally, there is tbe problem of political manipulation of the census.

Many African rsopujatkm figures currently in vogue were Initially the productolonial adrnmistratton. later embellished by national statistical offices. Generally the colonial figures tended to be low. underreporting was (airly widespread because of general colonialin the indigenous population and because the colonial census was usedeats foror corvee. Independence has usually brought no notableither procedures or results.

Even when trained census takers are used, social problems can markedly distort the data. Take the quertiou of age. Few Africans live by the clock, fewer still by the calendar, so numerators must attempt to dale their lives by important local events such as memorable floods or fires. Even those who keep better track of yearsendency to report In decades, giving the ageay, instead of


d Muslim Africa the tendency Is to omit daughters, especially those who have reached puberty but are not yet married, theretigma on unmarried daughters. This resultsharp drop in the number of reported females from aboutears old until time of marriage, when they can be reported respectfully as wives. Such phenomena are not hauled to the more prirnitive African countries. Tbe age data In0 census of Ghana, which had been under British colonial administration for moreentury, was cbarao-

Outright dishon-aty fn handling population statistics fa quiteAfrica. Even when that Isonscientiousalert the user to the limitations of the data is rare em*pt onof foreign statisticians with reputations to preserve. Theare in any case soon detached from the statistics, andassume exactitude when printed fn intelligenceclassic disclaimer quoted below was attached toensus in the

It moat be clearly nodentood that tba Department ofca bcorpb ao rtpowlhflity for whit wfll be aald a* tab cfaapccr. It nut! ba etated dearly aaaawal mB! coaliftcaaoo* that noat,not all.aad remarksthai chaster an of kvua vabaa.llaitba laanpUOon to aaa atgar* la laapaelountry whan no root afore has beea produced to theoo gnat, eveo tt to (he proeeaa ofoonfa aadeetaken than any reapactable ftailrUrian, kaviog tha good name of bh trade la tnlnd, wOnM care to admit. It mutt alio be Hated that ihould. by anyhe population Gaunt arrived at during tho main trrum agree la any way with tha ah tarhis chapter, tt wtO ba pun oafacfclenoa aad ao credit will be churned by the Departmewt of SmnStks. Oa tha othee hand, aboold the gueasee, as guenea often an. ba widely off the mark, no blame wfO ba admitted.

The problems with African population statistics arc best illustrated by example. Tbe countries discussed below were selected not because they are tbe worst cases but because they exhibit different typical forms of technical or pobxicaliy inspired distortion.


Chan a, often described asell-trained civil lervice and administratively bead and shoulders above Hi African neighbors, was thought capable ofeasonably good census.han si ant reported8 were eapected to increase

0 census,first. Underestimation in the last colonial census wootc account for some of the unexpectedly targe increase, but not all; an< examination of the census procedure shows government snanipidatioi toolitical end

President NVrurnah clearly decided to inflate the census.ingle cutoff date far the entire country, as fn usualhe decreed two, one for the northater one for thefirst glance Uu^would sxXaeein .cajffO for mato^cjffioiti^^But fa..south.

The northern area was counted before the migration began, theafter tbe chspla cement reached its rseak This procedure not only increased the total population bytbe Ghanaians that moved from north to south and including as Ghanaians tbe large numbern-Ghanaians from neighboring countries who regularly join tbe southward migration, but ft exaggerated In particular the population of the southern area from which NVrurnah. has drawn much of his support.

The population figure is therefore probably inflated by aboutercent, and tbe moreercent annual Increase indicated Is likewise an overstatement, the true figure probably lying closerercent While double-counting gives Nkrumah thearger population to rule, ft alsoarger divisor for the derivation of per capita statistics. By government manipulation Ghana thusargerer capita poorer country.


Estimates mode before the Uberlan censusopulation anywherehe lower figure was basedut count made on aerial photographs and multipliedahabitants fa somea others. The larger number was President Tubman's personal estimate made oa the eve of the census. When the census then produced the disappofating, he promptly suppressed It

Apparently Tubman found it embarrassing to become rulerountry withrsfllion people after twenty years of ruling more than twice that many. The higher figure was also convenient when seeking foreign aid; tbe United States and other benefactors often use per capita aid comparisons. It suggested an abundant untapped labor force, moreover, to work new rubber plantations and mining con-


tood domestic market lorestment In consumererman investor was in fact dissuaded fromlant in Liberia by the Information that the population was less than half the Dumber be had been told officially. (The census results bad become an open secret, and Tubman has reccndy been leaning toward releasing them.)

Upper Volte, Sierra Leone

Some coup tries End it Jnconveoient to change the offiaail^opul* ti on

estimates even1 when better data become available. In Upper Volts, foe example, the government reported0 an "adrnsnistradve* population, derivedead count for tax purposes. TheneQ^ualised Frenchman estimated, on tbe basis of an adequateotal ofupward revision of roughly one-fourth. Nonetheless tbe government still uses its old figure as tbe basis for fiscal planning. Acceptance of tbe better estimate would deflate all tbe Upper Volta per capita statistics and present the country as even more tbyimally poor than must be admitted now.

Sierra Leone's census, undertaken with substantial US. assistance,opulationsnitially therefused to accept the census at all because ft created problems of political representation. It now accepts the total figures but not the regional breakdown. The reason is dear. Tbe oppositionllowed only two seats In tbe legislature for an area (Cotnadgu) wblcb the census shows toopulation, while the ruling party gets sis teats to represent the population of the Western Rural Area, enumerated atbe government alsoto report the total of registeredand females ofeanoting list suggestsnulion, more thanercent too high.voter registration is not unknown in Africa.


In a0 the countries discussed above there was at least some basis for the cited estimates. Dot there are population statistics for which no basis at all can be discerned. Kthiopiaase in point. Demographic Yearbook generously describes tbe source offigures fora population of"con-



jeerurai" Most likely tbe statistics developed tram official Ethiopia statements rather than anyact. Evenew Ethiopia population estimate Is gainingust this fashion.ihkrpitm Herald ofeported an interview with At Seyoum Ejigu, Director-General of the National Election Board, wh had just completed an extensive study tour of tlie country.n excerpt:

tba proas* popoktk- atawMry asfa*


way as

h"re. cttlasdo. Matbaa aaal often at aW CwnoW General.o Aui Sayouai'a aetkutia of popuUtfcm the nuauV of paiUaoaeatarlaik* a> tbe Chamber of DcearOai would Lav* rimat, ha mid. akkoao&ctml bat la XJ.CO0.CO0 tba anew veoU ba xSC Hewevw. Ota DtractM-General WWvnd out adan La tnUoci anq Chamber of Deputia would here SM repreaaaU Uvea.

Thus Ethiopia will probablystlxens to the pcpularkn rolls. But we have do reason to assume that the result will be am closer to the true number than the oldfllfoo was. We reaDv have no Idea at all how marry EdiiopUris there are.

The simation would be amusing were it not that people insist ot making welfare comparisons based on per capita statistics. Shook we use the new estimate now to reduce further tbe Ethiopian pes capita GNP, already reported as ooe of thofrica? B) simple arithmetic Ethiopia might become the poorest country on tin continent The absurdity of the entire per capita exercise become: apparent with this question.


Tbe most extreme example of population confusion is currently Nigeria.2 official censusopulation of aboutill ion, which,ubsequent partial census,3 population betweenndillion. But3 census results announced last Februaryut the numberaprecisehere is substantial evidence that chicanery In taking the census greatly inflated .the population; because of tbe federal structure in Nigeria, changes in regional representation have very serious political implications. But we are concerned here with tbe economic aspects.


'*oiiriiciiwwr to use the new data; tbey would prefer

JIT xI had

been concluded

d* OOTDDCQic plflJauBvP* uxieara fa private coaromptioa would bedunng tbe pin, ^^

TDtln8 ^ urrecdyVkTmrr,

bthkw. of

tba couatryi reUtrrofr deal en Be

Theven gloomier if we accept the new population figures,the whole series of per capita economic and sociologicalper thousand, hospital beds, mvearxnent, CNP, etc. But we may be required to accept them by our cusV.mers-


The inadequacies of African statistics are paralleled fas much of the undeveloped world At present the African statistical bias Is usually upward, but it can also be down Mr, Said Hasan, Chairman of the Executive Committee of Pakistan's Institute of Development Economics welcomed' some years ago with the folkrwtng observa boo.

We dadoed that oopolaQoo aod in pnwth to South and Southeast Asia mutt bo understatedthat tho buk of ooaoaaalc Oa^ of that aroa oaay not appear toopaltaa eea. Asjala ha oar own axmtry wbe* (bot hr Tear Flan wasrgad, and aaoceaifuTlj too, that tbe rats of [populaltoa] powth aliould not be shown as blfbra tbaaenraL Thas to beep despair mi. Wo ara.that popula

than koowtadgo daatrova. Prospects and Some Su^eafaoru

There is little the intelligence analyst can do to improve the quantity or quality of African statistics- Better statistical information will come only with rime and with the development of rUtisticat offices in

aaneaaal on Ntfarta ruber rapec,

" On Population Crowth and Economic DowJodomds. with Special Reference to Pakktau,BM.

(tie countries concerned. Deliberate, politically Inspired distortion of social, economic, and political data by African leaders will probably continue also for some time, until these leaders or their successorsegree of political and economic maturity.

Although unable to improve the African statistics, wc could at least avoid giving them the currency and respectability they now enjoy by virtue of inclusion In high-level intelligence reports, it is recognized tbat it would be difficult to dispense with such numbersjBW entirely; it is proposed only thatcaicdhich persist fn using statistics with too many significant digits don't mislead the reader, they must af least Impress him with the naivete of die drafting officer.

The solution to the problemommand or customerin present practice the analyst is compelled by tbe requirements laid on him to Include in his reports statistics which he knows arc xuJy at best Officers at all levels who request reports, whether short papers for the same afternoon or long ones months ahead, should so frame their requirements that the analyst's Judgment may prevail with respect to statistical presentations, as In tbe case of Nigeria. The present assumption on the part of requesting officers that all countries nave common statistical series suitable for comparative purposes ought also to be discarded. Fact books and other statistical compendia ihould recognize thatreat many cases 'facts' hist do not exist.

Intelligence puhUcations rarely originate statistics on thecountries. The intelligence operation on them is for the mostifting and evaluating process Intended to qualify themTbe most copious source of the new statistics is probably. foreign aid program, for which voluminous "data" are produced in connection with various country aid schemes. These countrybooks are later reduced and presented, with the field's caveats removed, in erpensivcly bound volumesbe Congress and the Executive. Here the process really takes off; the proliferation of new 'statistics" gets under way In earnest.

Knowledge of the otter unrcliabiliry of Ethiopian data on population, as discussed above, is by no means tbe exclusive pnrperty of the writer. Yet consider what happens when Ethiopia is reduced to "numbers" andoreign aid publication. Wc find that tbe annual population growth Is L4 percent. We realty have no idea what the population growth is at all, but the reportercent which means that the true rate of Ethiopian population increase falls

5 percent5 percent Put another way. ft Implies that our information on the rate of Increase is accurateoe-hundredthsercent Tbe same reportopulation total4 millioner capita agricultural production index, electric power per capita, acres per capita, literacy rate, pupilsercent of population, and people per doctor. This exercise in pseudo-accuracy is repeated over and over again, country by country, with Ingenuous indifference to the real situation. It recalls Mark Twain's observation that "one gets such wholesale returns ofout ofrifling mvestment of facts." '

Where we must give statistics we .could use rounded figures. We could express doubtful data In ranges, doing more qualitative and less quantitative analysis. Population statistics, in particular, would be more useful to the consumer presented in ranges, asillion for Nigeria. The loss in aura of exactness would be more than compensated by increased exedibilrty. Per capita CNP could be given asather. This rougher measure would convey adequately tbe subsistence nature of tbe0 per year Is only aboutents per day.

And that Is all it needs to convey. Simple welfare comparisons made among per capitaor relatively primitive economies are not very profitable. When you come down to It,uite apparent that an Individual cannot exist onents per day. And he doesn't He actually exists. In Africa, onvariety of goods and serviceslargely by himself. These are valued at some kind of market prices (usuallyoreign economist and often using dryxpressed in the local currency, and converted into dollars by simple arithm ctic. Thehen viewed, fn our commimrty, by anwhoeekly incomecene multiple of the African's annual "per capitaarruliar chiefly with his own price structure, who knows nothing of the original suss coinrallted in the CNP data, and who has little or no conception of die statistical errors upon which bis mental comparative processes must rest.

rniiinnpi rmi

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