THE REAL NUMBERS: Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General for Statistics South Africa
JOHANNESBURG - The theme of the 61st UN conference held in Abuja was “Tourism Statistics, a Catalyst for Development”. Statisticians can now explore and enjoy exotic places in the name of duty - collecting statistics.

How flattering it is that as a statistician I can now follow the routes of the Fulani herdsman, which lay claim to the grazing lands from the Sokoto state into Sudan, joining other tribesmen as nomads across the Red Sea into Jordan as they lead their animals to greener and better pastures.

Arguably claiming their right as citizens of the world. They will not concede to the strictures imposed by the so-called sophisticated rulers who suffocate them from being cosmologists.

Like the Masai and the Masai Mara, whom nature so gifted to us - the continuous annual spectacular migration is a negation of boundaries. The modern world attempts to constrain the gregarious and adventurous mind of the animal kingdom, and this includes human beings.

Thus counting them and getting into their inner secrets is a rare privilege accorded statisticians as they seek to make statistics a catalyst for development. As I wake up from my flattery I realise that I enter the nightmare of real life.

One of being burdened with the responsibility that fellow statisticians across the world are having to contend with. They are asked to be conveyors and purveyors of a catalyst for development. What a heavy burden of privilege.

What an honour that none of us dares to be a coward, and betray the cause of the great past leaders of our time, who saw the world as their world and not a country.

In this regard I pay homage to the great artist of South Africa, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, when they argued in their classical song Rea Lumelisa - translating it into greetings - that Africa was a country refusing, as it were, to be subjected to boundaries.

Like the great artist, Fela Kuti, these artists have known no boundaries. They toured the world. Their music continues to tour the world long after Mahlathini and Fela Kuti have joined their ancestors and gods.

Still intoxicated by this honour, I wish to make three points about this catalyst for development. I will cast the statistical lens at what tourism means for the past, current and the future, and what burdens lie ahead for statisticians.

First, as a catalyst for development we have witnessed, as I indicated, the exploits and expeditions of the great Fulani herdsmen, the Dinka of South Sudan and the great Afghan herdsmen and the people of the mountain kingdom of Lesotho as they search for pasture.

In terms of definitions of tourism statistics, you are a tourist if you are away from your place of abode for one night or more for leisure, work, worship or medication. How ubiquitous tourism is then. It puts paid to the claim that the Fulani herdsmen and all nomads are in their own class as tourists par excellence.

It puts the great voyagers of the time past in their own class too. As those who exchanged culture, goods and services, development, innovation, education. Regrettably this includes warriors of colonialism, plunder and underdevelopment.


It is in this context that we need to consider what tourism in the era of sustainable development goals (SDGs) means to us.

So as a second point as a catalyst for development in the era of the SDGs, tourism means for us that it contributes directly into eliminating poverty, building our economies, improving health awareness, building partnerships and friendships, preserving our environment and creating a future for our children. That your Ebola is my Ebola and your HIV and Aids is my HIV and Aids, your bird flu is my bird flu.

So while we can temporarily quarantine populations and nations affected by different types of ailments and health risks, it can only be a measure that is derived from mutual compassion that recognises that we are humans and adventurers.

We need to recognise that your smile to a tourist is a message to the tourist that I love you. It is a job for the nation, food and fees for children. It is resources to the country.

Third, as a catalyst for development in the era of information technology, augmented reality and artificial intelligence, the question emerges of whether human beings will stop to travel in that period.

Friedrich Engels answers this question with an emphatic “no”, saying in that period labour will be exchanged for leisure. Thus tourism should ensure that citizens travel a lot more, as robotics would be doing the heavy lifting.

The populace will invest their time in knowing one another, promoting peace, decreasing the space for terrorism, depressing the prospect of war and augmenting the building of a wonderful world.

In closing I will refer you to the lyrics of What a Wonderful World, by Louis Armstrong - in this I found an anthem for tourism and development.

“I see trees of green, red roses too. I see them bloom for me and you.

“And I think to myself - what a wonderful world.

“I see skies of blue and clouds of white. The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night.

“And I think to myself - what a wonderful world.

“The colours of the rainbow so pretty in the sky are also on the faces of people going by.

“I see friends shaking hands, saying how do you do. They are really saying I love you.

“I hear babies crying. I watch them grow. They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know.

“And I think to myself - what a wonderful world. Yes, I think to myself - what a wonderful world.”

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.