Sierra Leone to proceed with census despite suspended World Bank funding 

Friday December 10 2021
Sierra Leone's Minister of Planning, Dr Francis Kai Kai

Sierra Leone's Minister of Planning, Dr Francis Kai Kai, reiterates government position on the census on Thursday, December 9, 2021. PHOTO | COURTESY


Sierra Leone is moving ahead with its 2021 Mid-Term Population and Housing Census (MTPHC)), despite a last-minute suspension of funding by the World Bank.

The move by the World Bank has been described by the western Africa nation as “shocking and “unfortunate”, noting that it undermined the process.

The World Bank, in a letter addressed to the Ministry of Finance two days before Census Night on December 9, cited incomplete aspects of the activities leading to data collection for its decision to withhold its support. It requested for further postponement to address these issues that include evaluation of the pilot census, field operation plan and training of enumerators.

In a letter addressed to World Bank, Finance Minister Dennis Vandi said he wasn’t aware of any outstanding issue with the Bank that could have warranted the decision, which came on the eve of the completion of training of 15, 000 field staff who will conduct the data collection from December 10 to December 24.

“The untimely and unexpected withdrawal of financial and technical support in the nick of time does not only undermine the credibility of the census but also the good working relationship that we have painstakingly nurtured between Statistics Sierra Leone (Stats SL) and the World Bank technical team over the period,” the letter addressed to the Accra-based World Bank Group Country Director for Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ghana states.

The census, which has been the subject of political debate over the true intention of the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), was first slated for 2020, five years after the West African nation conducted its last census.


Sierra Leone has always conducted census every 10 years.

Census enumerators on training in Waterloo, Western Area Rural

Census enumerators on training in Waterloo, Western Area Rural in Sierra Leone. PHOTO | COURTESY

The Covid-19 pandemic had led to its postponement to this date.

The government of President Julius Maada Bio has faced criticism for its decision to conduct the first ever Mid-Term census, with critics saying there were more important and urgent issues to focus on.

But the government insists that the last census, which was conducted under the administration of the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC), was flawed.

The APC, which has been leading the campaign against the Mid-Term census, believes that the Bio administration has a geopolitical agenda of creating new constituencies and districts, just like it was accused of doing after the 2015 census.

The APC intensified its opposition to the Mid-Term Census following the announcement of the final census date by President Bio two weeks ago. The opposition party vowed to boycott the process, and it has instructed its supporters not to cooperate with the enumerators.

As an apparent consequence, there have been reports from opposition dominated regions of tension between locals and officials of Statistics Sierra Leone (Stats SL), which is conducting the exercise.

The decision by the Bank has galvanised the opposition. On Thursday, on the eve of commencement of the enumeration exercise, reports indicated that a group of APC lawmakers staged a protest at parliament against the census.

The 2021 MTPHC is the first ever to be conducted using the Computer Assisted Personal Interviews in Sierra Leone, which joins four other countries--Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and Liberia--that have either done it or are on the verge of doing it.

Stats SL officials say the Mid-Term census will, therefore, also be a rehearsal process for the substantive census slated for 2025, among numerous other benefits.

The World Bank is just one of many international organisations and countries that are supporting Sierra Leone on the process. Others include the United Nations, the sub regional bloc MRU, and the Chinese, Ghanaian and Kenyan governments. Kenya provided the 20, 000 tablets that are being used in the data collection process.

The Bank’s support to the MTPHC was provided as a grant under its International Development Association (IDA) fund for poor countries.

The Sierra Leone government, according to its letter, requested for a High-Level Meeting to review the implementation of the remaining components of the grant “to avoid future misunderstanding.”