Ben Kiregyera was the keynote speaker at the Young African Statistician meeting held on July 5. Photo: FaceBook.
Ben Kiregyera was the keynote speaker at the Young African Statistician meeting held on July 5. Photo: FaceBook.

Statistical landscape is undergoing huge changes: Ben Kiregyera

By Opinion Time of article published Jul 10, 2021

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Ben Kiregyera

Let me take this opportunity to very much thank Statistics South Africa which in 2008 organised the first Conference of Young African Statisticians on the continent and facilitated a good number of them from all over Africa to attend the conference. I was honoured to be one of the keynote speakers and to interact with so many young statisticians at this landmark conference.

One output of that conference was formation of the Young African Statisticians Association with countries encouraged to form chapters of the association. The other output was unveiling and endorsement of the ISIbalo Capacity Building Programme to nurture, grow and mentor a cadre of future statistical professionals and leaders in Africa. ISIbalo would become the flagship and African legacy programme of the 57th Congress of the International Statistical Institute which South Africa successfully hosted in 2009.

The African statistical community is eternally grateful to Statistics South Africa for her vision and leadership in starting the Young African Statistical Association and for making the ISIbalo programme one of her priorities, as well as for making the programme prominent at the International Statistical Institute Congress.

We would also like to thank those National Statistics Offices that have since included activities of the Young African Statisticians Association in their programmes and supported the national chapters of the Association. I also want to congratulate the Young African Statisticians for their resilience and enthusiasm. Some 13 years after the Pretoria conference, the spirit of Pretoria still looms large in many of the African countries. I have personally seen this in Egypt, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa of course, and in several other African countries.

This meeting was being held at a time when the statistical landscape is undergoing huge changes and statistics as a profession and science is at crossroads. There is huge increase in demand for:

•data on the changing nature of the economy – digital economy (marked by billions of everyday online connections among people, businesses, devices, data, and processes) and greener economy (addressing socio-economic and environmental issues);

•better data in terms of scope, quality, granularity and disaggregation;

•time critical and actionable data for informing and managing response to emergencies such as Covid-19 pandemic;

•real time data from new and non-traditional data sources including Big data; and

•as Anil Arora, the Chief Statistician of Canada, has explained, policy-makers, are eager to make use of data. It’s no longer “tell me about what’s going on in housing, or justice, or health,” he says.

“They’re looking at the intersections between them – so it’s about how housing relates to mental health, or how the built environment impacts on quality of life.”

These changes require that we have change agents who are innovators and creators and who will be critical in transforming traditional National Statistical Systems into “data ecosystems” to include new data users, data producers and sources of data. The changes will also require acquisition of new knowledge, capabilities and strategic skills of the 21st century to deal with 21st century challenges.

These skills, among others, include competences in Data Science and associated Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) that are shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The changes will also require that we ramp up uptake on digital and innovative technologies in data collection, management, communication and presentation. Issues of computer assisted data collection, open data portals, data visualisation and use of social media to communicate statistical information, etc. will be hallmarks of the emerging statistical landscape.

Young statisticians are better placed to be the change agents for the desired transformation of NSSs in Africa. This is because they are not stuck in past statistical practices; they are resilient and agile; they are IT-savvy; they are inquisitive; have a lot of energy reserves; and are able to learn faster than elder statistical professionals who are in the afternoon and evening of their lives.

Data has been called the “new gold” and you, young statisticians may be best placed to make the data shine like gold. It is, therefore, important that the Young African Statisticians Association and associated programmes are prioritised in National Strategies for Statistical Development and in the work of pan-African institutions as well as statistics programmes development partners are supporting in Africa.

In this connection, I am very happy that the African Centre for Statistics has found it fit to prioritise capacitating Young African Statisticians by introducing a new ECA’s “Takwimu Young African Statisticians Programme”.

I can say without any shade of doubt that the African Statistics Elders – and their numbers are increasing – stand ready to support this great programme that aims to secure the future of statistics, our profession, in Africa.

I want to end this address by once again thanking the Director for the African Centre for Statistics at UNECA for the invitation to make this address.

Ben Kiregyera is the Director of the African Centre for Statistics.


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