There is something maddening about statistics if you happen to be a politician and occasionally find yourself on the wrong side of the numbers.
Numbers have this nasty habit of taking all of your rhetoric and whittling it down to tiny little lines that take the place of your wordy rambling and noisy grandstanding.
However, it would be unfair to suppose that only politicians have a bone to pick with stats. For instance, I do not claim to know how football’s world governing body, Fifa, arrives at its ranking of our national football teams.
But, when my country was scheduled to play against Cape Verde in a qualifier for some tournament slated for next year, our soccer fans had a hard time trying to understand how Cape Verde stood 30 or so places above our beloved homeland in the Fifa rankings. I even heard people say such silly things as, how can such a small island nation of only five hundred thousand people be better than us?
Silly, because to make up a football team, including the reserves, you need only 18 or so people, and five-hundred-thousand is a number from which you can form many, many teams. Plus, if the size of a country’s population determined soccer supremacy, then China would be unbeatable, followed by India and then Indonesia.
But politicians take the cake when it comes to disliking stats that rub them the wrong way. That is why in some of our countries, governments are busy drafting laws that will seek to outlaw any research reports and polls that have not been validated by a government bureau of statistics, which at any rate is the same office that gives the go-ahead for any intended research.
A few weeks ago, this point was illustrated in a rather strange way when a civil society research body released its findings on, among other things, approval ratings for President John Magufuli after two-and-a-half years in office. The report suggested the president’s popularity had plummeted by some 40 percentage points since taking office.
The next day the chief executive of the research body was called to immigration headquarters and told what he first thought was a practical joke: He was not a citizen of this country! That “joke” is still in force as this man is now unable to travel.
The real joke, however, is that this was the same man who published the initial ratings that gave Magufuli approval figures of 90 per cent and 70 per cent respectively two years and one year ago. The researcher’s citizenship quality seems to have fallen in tandem with the president’s declining popularity.
Optimism is a cure for insomnia
We shall not have to worry about this in the future, as we shall all be happy to glory in the Panglossian philosophy that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Optimism is a cure for insomnia, and we all need a good night’s sleep from time to time.
And yet some incorrigible questioners will not stay quiet, especially when they are bombarded with indigestible stats. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, answering to a wealthy Sudanese entrepreneur, has established a fairly respectable Index that puts our countries under its lenses to determine the status of our governance health.
Recently the foundation released a report that shows that Tanzania has cleaned up its governance act, and has risen a few notches on that specific scale, from number 17 to number 14 in African governance.
Some observers have interrogated the stats used in the preparation of this new report, and they are not necessarily your usual incredulous brigades.
Those who live and work in Tanzania know that the governance situation has deteriorated sharply; that the legislature and the judiciary have been increasingly brought under the wing of the executive; that the media is heavily censored and has now fallen into the dark pit of self-censorship.
I do not know what it means to rise from number 17 to number 14 of anything, but if it means that opposition figures can be harassed incessantly, some of them shot without anyone being apprehended; that the media can be muzzled and regularly banned… then the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s pundits had better be looking for another job.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]