The virtual United Nations World Data Forum ended Wednesday, 21 October, 2020 with the Economic Commission for Africa’s (ECA) Director for the Africa Statistics Centre, Oliver Chinganya, stressing the importance of current, reliable and trusted data to ensure Africa leaves no one behind as it implements the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063, the continent’s blueprint for development.
Speaking on a panel discussing the theme; Balancing Data and Data Protection: Learning from African Experiences, Mr. Chinganya said building trust in a field littered with many players is difficult but critical if it is to be used to unlock Africa’s full potential through evidence-based policymaking that will change people’s lives at the grassroots level.
He emphasized the importance of protecting data security, investing in quality data infrastructure, and practicing good governance to ensure laws and regulations are in place in member States to regulate collection, management and use of the numbers.
“Everyone agrees that data is important and has value. It is like a currency. It is gold. Others have even called it the new oil. It is simply an asset,” said Mr. Chinganya. “Everyone is interested in data and therefore we must have rules on how it is managed and used by everyone for everyone.”
He said this is why the UN Fundamental Principles on Official Statistics are in place, along with statistical laws or Statistics Acts and Statistics Code of Ethics, and in Africa in particular, the African Charter on Statistics to avoid abuse.
Mr. Chinganya underscored that the statistics landscape is one of the most populated areas with many actors but, he stressed, the national statistical office remained the authority on official statistics.
He said it was encouraging that most African countries now have data protection laws.
“The data economy is diverse and dynamic. Data requirements are limitless, and most of the data do not conform to official statistics standards and norms,” said Mr. Chinganya, adding adaptive approaches were necessary as a result.
The ECA, in partnership with organizations such as African Union Commission and others are providing advisory services to countries to revise their laws.
Through the Digital Centre for Excellence, the ECA is engaged in supporting member States in designing and implementing inclusive National Digital Transformation Strategies by adhering to principles and frameworks enshrined in the continental Digital Transformation Strategy endorsed by the African Union Heads of States Summit in February 2020.
Mr. Chinganya said the ECA continues to help build capacity in countries on the continent around data governance, including developing statistical road maps, the National Strategies for the Development of Statistics (NSDS), which are aligned to national development plans and budget processes.
“ECA and other regional and international organizations have a big role to play in setting standards and supporting governments,” he added.
Also on the panel was Irũngũ Houghton, Executive Director at Amnesty International Kenya. He shared the Kenyan experience of the 2019 National Population and Housing Census and explored the question of when data capture infringes on citizens’ rights.
He noted that with the passing of the Data Protection Act 2019, there were new frontiers for both promoting data-driven policy and citizen’s right to privacy.
Panelists were agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the increasing importance of data to save lives and allow Africa to recover better.
The panel took place as the world marked World Statistics Day under the theme; ‘Connecting the world with data we can trust’. The day emphasizes the importance of data authenticity and credibility.