Interventionist Regimes in Tanzania and Rwanda are manipulating Economic Data

Beyond the laudable efforts to clampdown on corruption, and the uncompromising state-led interventionist policies to improve their economies, many experts have observed that Rwanda and Tanzania may be overstating various economic indicators in an effort to omit certain inconvenient truths by using junk statistics.

The growing perplexity surrounding the publication of these economic indicators stems from the fact that the institutions collecting and analyzing economic data are in some ways compelled to publish fake statistics that are passed off as legitimate. This should not come as a surprise since the anti-democratic political climate in these countries is not only gradually weakening institutional norms, but also one where centralized reporting of this data is heavily subjected to undue political pressure.

The stifled democratic space, coupled with the loss of media freedom and coverage of economic and social issues, have gravely undermined the publication of accurate and timely statistical information to the extent that Tanzania had albeit unsuccessfully, attempted to come up with a statistics law where section 37(5) stated that, “it is an offence for an agency or any person to publish or communicate official statistical information which may result into a distortion of facts. Upon conviction, such a person shall be liable to a fine of not less than ten million shillings or to the imprisonment of a term not less than three years or to both”. 

These punitive measures would have seriously undermined the independence of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), meaning that it would only be an autonomous body in theory. It would also mean that the NBS would be the sole and final arbiter of Tanzania’s growth statistics that should not of course be perceived to invalidate, distort, or discredit the political line.

Whereas this draconian statistics law was not implemented, recent articles that appeared in the Economist have worryingly reported that Maghufuli’s government is actively muzzling any statistical data not sanctioned by the government by for example blocking unfavorable IMF reports that indicated a low-key economic momentum in areas like, mining as well as foreign direct investments. 

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]At first glance, it would seem like these comparability issues could be logically expected to occur in various rounds of surveys due to the technical rigor required to monitor poverty levels. [/perfectpullquote]

This trend of misrepresenting statistical data has also been observed in Rwanda’s poverty figures, whereby data journalists from the Financial Times analyzed the government’s own data and found that the spectacular drop in poverty levels of 6 points from 44.9% in 2010/11 to 39.1% in 2013/14, as being verifiably false. 

By radically changing the methodology of how poverty levels would be compared over time, the Financial Times asserted that the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda did “not initially make the same adjustments to the results of the previous survey, rendering the government’s comparison of poverty levels between 2011 and 2014 flawed”. 

While in principle one could argue that the definition of the poverty line should evolve to reflect economic indicators like the inflation rate, unemployment rates, as well as the aggregate measures of private consumption, it seems that the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda implemented new methodologies, survey designs, and definitions, without retroactively adjusting the assumptions and variables affecting the past surveys.

At first glance, it would seem like these comparability issues could be logically expected to occur in various rounds of surveys due to the technical rigor required to monitor poverty levels. 

Nevertheless, Rwanda’s forced march towards impressive economic growth is being done within a backdrop of a stifled democratic space that overzealously prioritizes economic development with clever political marketing and propaganda that has made Rwanda the darling of foreign donors and international economic institutions.

Why the Publishing of Economic Data Should Not Be Dove-Tailed to Political Whims

Survey literature or any other economic data should at least have a semblance of credibility so that policymakers, investors, and more importantly, the citizenry, are able to call upon their political leaders to follow more open, evidence-based policies.

Imperatively, it means creating and fostering institutional norms where it would be impossible to muddle politics with official data reporting and, resisting any attempts to maintain a monopoly over all statistical information in circulation within a country.

Charles Waiganjo is an African Liberty contributor.