Data Deserts: 10 African Countries We Know Little About

By Dana Sanchez Published: February 19, 2016, 1:20 pm
Botswana salt pans. Photo: peopletribe.netBotswana salt pans. Photo:

African countries lose investments due to lack of data.

Most African countries have data gaps, but some have data deserts.

DW looked at 10 African countries whose citizens lack even basic information about their own country’s births, deaths and unemployment rates, not to mention government spending, taxation and economic performance.

Reliable data is expensive and unavailable in many African countries, DW reported.

“It can cost at least $1 per person to conduct a census. So if you are a country like Nigeria with around 160 million people it will cost $160 million,” said Anim van Wyk with South Africa-based fact-checking organization Africa Check.

Lack of reliable data means that marketers can’t make the most of opportunities across the continent, according to a survey of World Federation of Advertisers members, AdvertisingAge reported.

A lack of basic market data not only hinders attempts to generate insights, but also creates a barrier to investment, survey respondents said.

World Bank has devised a way to measure and compare countries’ data. The Statistical Capacity Indicator (SCI) provides a global comparison of how individual countries are doing in collecting, analyzing and disseminating data about their populations and economies.

The score takes into account the sources of the data, methods and frequency of data collection. A country can have a SCI from 0 and 100. A high figure means a country is good at acquiring data and using it constructively.

While some of the worst-performing African countries listed below can attribute poor data collection to recent or current civil war or political and social unrest, this isn’t always the case. Some of them are wealthy countries that choose to devote the funds and human resources necessary for serious data collection to other endeavors they value more.

Check out these data deserts: 10 African countries we know little about.

Sources: AdvertisingAge, DW, World Bank Statistical Capacity Indicator (SCI),

Luanda, Angola. Photo:

Luanda, Angola. Photo:

10. Angola

Angola has an SCI of 47.8 — well below the sub-Saharan African average of 59.9. Angola faces government budgetary difficulties with the falling price of oil. The country expected a $30 billion revenue shortfall for 2015 and announced major budget cuts. It also announced plans to revive agricultural production, but no data is available about this sector.

Source: DW

Looking for a signal in Djibouti Photo: John Stanmeyer

Looking for a signal in Djibouti Photo: John Stanmeyer

9. Djibouti

The small country on the Horn of Africa has an SCI 46.7. Strategically located, Djibouti is a gateway to the Suez Canal, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

The port is the lifeblood of its economy, providing the biggest source of income and employment in an otherwise barren country, BBC reported.

Considered relatively stable, Djibouti is home to several foreign military bases, ensuring the country a steady flow of foreign assistance. The country plays host to the largest U.S. military base in Africa and France has a strong presence there. China recently announced plans to start building a naval base there.

Source: DW, BBC

Botswana salt pans. Photo:

Botswana salt pans. Photo:

8. Botswana

Botswana had a an SCI of 45.6 in 2015. In the past it has done better on statistics. The effort it makes in collecting data on health, agriculture, population and poverty is minimal, though it does make available some information about birth and death rates. Botswana’s data score started to deteriorate in 2013 when it dipped below the sub-Saharan Africa average, according to World Bank’s Statistical Capacity Indicator. This downward trend continues.

Source: DW, World Bank

Bubaque Island, Guinea-Bissau. Photo: Ricci Shryock

Bubaque Island, Guinea-Bissau. Photo: Ricci Shryock

7. Guinea-Bissau

This West African country’s data on agricultural production, poverty, births and deaths is poor. It has an SCI of 44.4, but its data on population and health has improved since 2010.

Source: DW

Equatorial Guinea infrastructure development. YouTube

Equatorial Guinea infrastructure development. YouTube

6. Equatorial Guinea

The tiny central African country has an SCI of 42.2. This score represents a 10-point improvement from 2013 to 2015. The country did conduct a population census but it failed to deliver data on poverty, health, agriculture, deaths and births.

Source: DW


5. Gabon

The best of the worst five African countries for statistical capacity, Gabon has has an SCI of 40. The oil-dependent economy was hit hard when the price of crude collapsed on international markets. In 2014 the government couldn’t pay civil servants’ salaries. Located  lies on the Atlantic coast, Gabon is facing social unrest and strikes ahead of the 2016 presidential elections.

Source: DW


Juba, South Sudan. Photo:

4. South Sudan

Hopes of peace and stability that accompanied South Sudan’s secession from Sudan in 2011 have not materialized. National data collection started in 2013 and since then the country’s SCI has improved to 34.4 points. According to the South Sudan National Bureau of Statistics website, 72 percent of the population is below the age of 30 and 78 percent of households depend on crop farming or animal husbandry as their main source of income.

Source: DWSouth Sudan National Bureau of Statistics

 Western Eritrea.Photo: Charles Roffey/

Western Eritrea.Photo: Charles Roffey/

3. Eritrea

The tiny country scores 27.8 index points. Eritrea is an economically and politically isolated dictatorship, in which persecution, forced labor, torture and arbitrary arrests are commonplace. According to the U.N., hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled their country.

Source: DW

Libyan kids dive into the Mediterranean near Tripoli. Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AFP

Libyans dive into the Mediterranean near Tripoli. Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AFP

2. Libya

This North African country’s SCI score has dropped by almost 50 percent since the civil war began in 2011 to 22.2 points. However, state authorities have conducted a population census within the last 10 years. The U.S. is actively striking at ISIS camps, CNN reported today.

Source: DW, CNN

A technician adjusts the signal on a satellite dish in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

A technician adjusts the signal on a satellite dish in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP

1. Somalia

This war-torn Horn of Africa country is the worst performer on the list with an SCI of 20 points. Despite a new parliament being assembled in 2012 for the first time in 20 years, data collection got worse, not better, as the government struggles to stop attacks by insurgents.

Source: DW

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