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On 18 November, the global community celebrated African Statistics Day, an annual event to draw attention to the successes of African statistics and the importance of statistics in all aspects of life. The theme for 2020, “Modernising national statistical systems to provide data and statistics to support sustainable peace and development in Africa”, was selected to raise awareness about the critical importance of governance and socioeconomic statistics in achieving the goal of a conflict-free Africa, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

It cannot be overemphasised that sustainable peace and development cannot be achieved without sustainable and modern statistical systems. Data are critical for policy-making and for monitoring and measuring progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. “We need subnational, national and regional statistical systems which can generate the trustworthy data that the governments, the private sector and the people need. Digitalisation and enhanced governance and coordination between stakeholders offer unique possibilities. However, strengthening capacity takes time and resources”, stresses François Fonteneau, Deputy Head of PARIS21.

There is no time to spare: national statistical systems, usually in the poorest countries, are being left behind and data on gender, environment and governance is missing or underused in many countries. In partnership with the Zambia Statistics Agency, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and Statistics Sweden, PARIS21 launched a pilot project in Zambia this year. It aims to strengthen the national statistical system in its capacity to understand the needs of environmental statistics users. Countries such as Senegal also use specific tools developed by PARIS21 to support statistical efforts. This includes the ADAPT tool, which can make data planning more efficient, as well as a comprehensive framework designed to assess data and statistical capacity gaps related to gender statistics.

In addition, future collaborations and activities with regional partners will focus on strengthening skills for the provision of high quality data, developing leadership and communication skills of national statistical systems as well as statistical literacy in policy units and fostering dialogue within societies on the use of data.

Lastly, rewinding this turbulent year, the continent can also look back on a great number of successes. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, African national statistics offices have done a remarkable job in providing data and statistics to help their governments take difficult decisions. According to Samuel Kobina Annim, head of the Ghana Statistical Service, and Johannes Jütting, executive head of PARIS21, this is worth mentioning, as nine in ten national statistics offices in low- and lower-middle-income countries have faced particular funding constraints during the crisis.

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