The 2015 provisional census figures, published by Statistics Sierra Leone and launched by president Koroma last Thursday, have not only raised eyebrows among statisticians and economists regarding its accuracy and reliability, but have also sparked a political row.
The country’s main opposition party – the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) have issued a statement, strongly condemning the entire census process and the government’s failure to take heed of the warnings issued by the SLPP party, long before the head counting began.
The SLPP is accusing the government of gerrymandering and census fixing. They say that the ruling party had employed party supporters to conduct the census, rather than using trained non-partisan staff.
But what is truly remarkable and striking about these provisional figures is that in just over ten years, the population of Sierra Leone is reported to have grown by almost 50% – an increase not seen, since the end of the war in 2001, when millions of people migrated to the capital and its suburbs, from as far afield as Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.
It is this post-war migration that accounted for the large increase in the country’s population, from about 3 million in 1990 to almost 5 million in 2004.
So what could have accounted for the 47% increase in population, reported by Statistics Sierra Leone between 2004 and 2015?
It is difficult to explain this massive increase using migration factors, as both Liberia and Guinea are now stable and doing quite well economically, compared to Sierra Leone.
Also, it is quite tenuous to argue that the country’s birth and survival rates have increased by almost 50%, accounting for this population increase.
According to the latest Global Human Development Index, adult mortality in Sierra Leone – the age most Sierra Leoneans are expected to die – is less than 50 years; coupled with the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
For every 100,000 women giving birth – over 1,100 are reported dead every year – making Sierra Leone the most dangerous place for a woman to get pregnant.
Equally so, is the sad and tragic statistic, showing that Sierra Leone is the worst country for a child to be born. For every 1,000 children born in the country every year, 107 are reported dead – the highest rate of death among newly born in the world.
So too is the grim UNDP statistics, showing that for every 1,000 children that manage to live until they are four years old, 160 will sadly die before their fifth birthday.
The physical growth of 45% of children in Sierra Leone, aged under-five is severely stunted because of malnutrition, giving strong reason to believe that few will survive to celebrate their 15th birthday, let alone produce a large family.
These Global Human Development Index figures for Sierra Leone therefore raise serious questions, and pours doubt over the provisional 2015 census figures launched last Thursday by the president.
How can these figures be reasonably judged accurate and credible, in the face of such grim Global Human Development Index statistics for Sierra Leone?
The 2015 figures also suggest that the ruling APC party’s stronghold – the Northern region, and the capital Freetown which is generally regarded as a ‘swing vote’ constituency, have had a population rise of 43% and 58% respectively.
In 2004, the northern region had a population of 1.746 million. Statistics Sierra Leone says that this has grown to over 2.5 million in 2015.
Freetown (Western region) had a population of 947,122 in 2004, and this, according to the government, has increased to over 1.49 million – an increase of 58%.
Southern region had a population of 1.093 million in 2004, which has grown to about 1.439 million in 2015 – an increase of 32% compared to the north’s increase of 43%.
The population of the Eastern region was 1.19 million in 2004, and is now reported to have had a 38% increase to about 1.64 million in 2015.
Once again, the question that must be asked is, what accounts for these abnormally large increases between 2004 and 2015, which cannot simply be explained by birth and migration factors?
Do these figures align with the total number of birth and death certificates issued in each region in the last ten years?
Has there been a surge in migration and or birth rates in the north and in Freetown in the last ten years?
These figures have sparked mixed feelings and reactions across the political divide in Sierra Leone today, and the reason is obvious. For the ruling party, should these provisional figures be confirmed as final, then they have won the 2018 elections.
Hence one can understand the reaction of the opposition SLPP to these figures. They may as well not turn up in 2018 to cast their votes, should these provisional figures be confirmed as final, as the 2015 census appears to be heavily skewed against the southern region.