Written by: Baboucarr Phenomenal Mbowe
Economics and Development Studies
University of The Gambia
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) explains Census as the official complete enumeration of the population in a country, territory or area. In context, this involves the complete counting and collection of important data about people in a country.
In The Gambia, census is conducted once every ten (10) years and it provides significant demographic and socioeconomic statistics which are crucial for development planning. Census generates data on number of people, their spatial distribution, sex, age structure, fertility, mortality, migration, etc, and other vital socioeconomic characteristics such as poverty, unemployment, education, and other living conditions of people, especially vulnerable groups. It is very conspicuous that understanding these variables means understanding relevant required policy and programmatic actions for meaningful development.
Census in The Gambia began in 1963 and since then, six census surveys have been conducted with the last being in 2013. Over the years, census data has provided guiding insight to development actors to inform development planning for sound policy making, progressive governance, social welfare programmes, crisis prevention, response and mitigation. The Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBoS) is usually the lead government body in the conduct of census in The Gambia. In the most recent times, as development evolves and by virtue of emerged and emerging global goals, there becomes an increasing need for census data, especially a more disaggregated one to aid the direction of development planning and evaluation.
However, in many countries around the world, The Gambia alike – the global health crisis (COVID-19) stroke the world at a time when lot of countries were either on census or preparations or even looking forward to it in the near future. This pandemic, unfortunately, has cost a lot of countries to a point of affecting ongoing census or preparations for countries such as USA, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Indonesia; or postponement in some countries like Brazil, Belize, Seychelles, Panama, Seychelles, Kyrgyzstan of their next census studies – according to a Technical Brief in 2020 by UNFPA on the Implications of COVID-19 on Census. The Gambia alike is on the brink of this potential threat to conduct census in 2023!
The Government of The Gambia National Development Plan 2018-2022 has one of its critical enablers as data for development. That is, a governance system that is guided by data-driven policies for desired development results and outcomes. This 21st century development approach is key for not only progress but evaluation. Development evaluation is now taking a centre stage in addressing development challenges, especially for long-term development plans. In this, census data significantly helps to demonstrate progress and shortfalls, thereby giving room for an improved and more effective governance process.
Since 2013, population change in The Gambia is having key socioeconomic implications. Population dynamics such as fertility, mortality and migration are shaping the development trajectory of The Gambia. Sufficing to say, the development of any country is underpinned on the people themselves, which makes it utterly imperative to study those people as their characteristics influence every fiber of development. This is exactly what census data provides.
Juxtaposed by the above, a delayed or postponed census studies in The Gambia, in all senses, could have far reaching consequences on development, especially on the vulnerable members of society. It will also affect development and planning in years to come, as planning may still be based on the old census and future projections, as opposed to a new exhaustive data. Despite the regular conduct of other surveys in The Gambia that provides similar information, census is the only form of survey which takes account of the entire population, as opposed to other surveys which are based on samples. The exhaustive nature of census studies is what makes census a very important factor of development in itself and therefore cannot have any close substitute. Any nation that yearns for development must really not compromise census.
Therefore, The Government of The Gambia together with development partners should renew their commitment in earnest, to the conduct of 2023 Census in 2023 for only if we are exhaustively informed we can exhaustively plan and achieve sustainable development that is receptive to the needs of the people.
FOR THE GAMBIA, EVER TRUE