Mayor of Freetown writes to Statistics Sierra Leone about serious errors in the 2021 census figures 

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 June 2022:

Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr has written a letter to Professor Osman Sankoh, who is the country’s Statistician General, pointing out the massive and glaring errors inherent in his recently published mid-term census results for Freetown (Western Area).

In her letter, she said that: “With rapid rural-urban migration and in the absence of development controls (land-use planning and an effective building permit regime) Freetown has in recent years experienced an exponential growth in the number and size of informal settlements (slum communities) with many of these, unfortunately expanding into the coastal mangroves and up onto the hills around the city.”

Many in Sierra Leone are left wondering as to why the Statistician General could allow such serious inaccuracies to be published by Statistics Sierra Leone, if not for political reasons aimed at preparing the ground for the 2023 presidential and general elections.

This is the letter written by the Freetown Mayor:

Dear Statistician General

CONCERNS RE ACCURACY OF MID-TERM CENSUS RESULTS FOR WESTERN AREA URBAN (FREETOWN)

I have seen on social media the provisional results of the mid-term population and housing census which indicates that the population of the capital city, Freetown (Western Area Urban), has decreased by 42.5% from 1,055,964 in 2015 to 606,701 in 2021.

As the Mayor of Freetown, I am extremely concerned about the accuracy of this data and the significant additional development challenges that would result from the adoption of inaccurate data in respect of Freetown’s population.

I wish to bring to your attention published and/or independently verifiable data points which strongly suggest that there has been a substantial undercount of Freetown’s population in the mid-term population and housing census. I set these data points out below with brief explanations of how they relate to the provisional results of the Freetown mid-term census population:

  • The total number of voters in Western Area Urban registered by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) for the March 2018 general elections was 606,939 (https://nec.gov.sl/uploads/files/Completed_RegistrationPressRelease2017.pdf). NEC registered voters are 18 years old and over and are thus a subset of the entire population. But this number is greater than the mid-term census provisional Freetown population of 606,701 which is meant to reflect the entire population.
  • The Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) 2020 school census[1] confirmed that there are 413,407 pupils enrolled in Western Area Urban (pre-primary to senior secondary) (https://www.dsti.gov.sl/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/ASC-2020-Report.pdf). The number of school pupils in the MBSSE school census gives an indication of those in the Western Area Urban between the ages of 6 years and 18 years, but it must be noted that: (i) it does not include those under the age of 6 years; and (ii) there are many children in Western Area Urban who are not enrolled in school so the total number of those between 0 and 18 in Freetown is in fact greater than the 413,407 recorded in the MBSSE 2020 school census.
  • The combination of the school pupils recorded in the MBSSE 2020 school census (413,407) and the number of NEC registered Western Area Urban voters (606,939) effectively covers those between 6 to 18 years and those 18 years and over who chose to be registered giving a total of 1,020,346.
  • Freetown City Council introduced a digital property rate system in 2020 which used satellite images of the city to capture all properties in the city for inclusion in our property database. A distinction is made in the property database between formal structures (properties with foundations, walls, roofs etc) which are assessed for property rates and informal structures (those without foundations) which are not assessable for property rates. As at 8th June 2022, Freetown City Council has 107,526 assessable domestic properties (formal structures) in our property database. Based on the 2015 National Census data, Western Area Urban has 9.2 population per house (https://www.statistics.sl/index.php/census/census-2015.html), so it could be assumed that there are approximately 989,239 people (107,526 x 9.2) living in the domestic properties in Freetown City Council database.
  • Slum Dwellers Association’s partner organization, the Centre of Dialogue on Human Settlement and Poverty Alleviation (CODOHSAPA), conducted population profiling of 58 slum communities in Western Area Urban between November 2020 and May 2021 and recorded 344,147 people[2]. The vast majority of these people live in informal structures which are not assessable for property rates.
  • Combining the estimated 989,239 people that live in the Freetown City Council assessed domestic properties with the 344,147 people profiled as living in 58 slum communities, gives a total of 1,333,386

With rapid rural-urban migration and in the absence of development controls (land-use planning and an effective building permit regime) Freetown has in recent years experienced an exponential growth in the number and size of informal settlements (slum communities) with many of these, unfortunately expanding into the coastal mangroves and up onto the hills around the city.

The Migration and Urbanization Report published by Statistics Sierra Leone in October 2017 states “The percentage of lifetime in-migrants shows that the most migrant-attractive region in Sierra Leone is the Western Area, where a little more than half of the enumerated population were born outside the region.…. The influence of the capital Freetown certainly plays a major role in making the Western Region attractive to migrants. This city is the economic, financial and cultural centre of Sierra Leone. Most of the country’s largest companies and international companies locate their headquarters in Freetown. Furthermore, Freetown has the most functional harbour, around which its economy revolves, is home to the Government, and has the best social and economic infrastructure”.

The Statistics Sierra Leone findings resonate with the findings of our work on rural-urban migration at the Freetown City Council. Related to membership of the Mayors Migration Council, Freetown City Council conducted a survey of members of sanitation tricycle groups in 2020 and confirmed that over 40% of the existing members were rural-urban migrants. Similarly, through our work on informal settlement upgrades and related surveys conducted in 2020, we note that 37% of people living in Cockle Bay and 35% of people living in Kolleh Town are rural-urban migrants. (Survey results are available for review).

Furthermore, ariel images taken between 2015 and 2022 and provided below, show the physical expansion of four informal settlements (slum communities) from year to year as more and more people have moved into Freetown.  This physical expansion of slum communities is replicated across all 74 slum communities in Western Area Urban.

The delivery of services and much needed infrastructure for the residents of Freetown is already a significant challenge due to serious financial resource constraints including but not limited to fiscal transfers from the Government of Sierra Leone. Approximately 55% of Government fiscal transfers are allocated to cover the operations of Freetown’s secondary hospitals (Macauley Street Hospital and Lumley Hospital) and the District Health Medical Team (DHMT).

Government fiscal transfers to Freetown City Council have already been subject to substantial reductions in recent years, including a 90% reduction in the administrative grant allocated to the Freetown City Council from 2018 to 2022. (It should be noted that no allocation has yet been disbursed to the Freetown City Council and other local councils for 2022).

If the mid-term provisional Freetown population result is adopted, it would trigger a commensurate reduction in the Government of Sierra Leone fiscal allocations to Freetown as well as a potential reduction in other financial inflows (overseas development aid, foreign direct investments, private sector funds etc). This would be a great injustice to the well over 1 million Freetonians living in this very overcrowded city with a high demand for and right to improved services.

The purported 42.5% reduction in the population of Freetown suggested by the provisional results of the mid-term census is not consistent with independent verifiable data points as highlighted above, nor with the visible physical experience of informal settlement growth within the city.  In the light of all the above, I would be most grateful if Statistics Sierra Leone could urgently review the provisional results for the mid-term census for Freetown as the current results clearly significantly undercount the city’s population.

Assuring you of my highest regards

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr OBE

Mayor of Freetown

cc

The Minister of Development and Economic Planning

The Minister of Western Region

The Minister of Local Government and Rural Development

The Chairperson, Budget and Finance Committee, Freetown City Council

The Chief Administrator, Freetown City Council

Foootnotes:

The MBSSE 2020 school census was funded by the World Bank and the European Union

The population profiling was funded by the World Bank and Slum Dwellers International

6 Comments

  1. Just like everything else census matters , but the timing and the way it is conducted also matters .Spare a thought for Lebanon that haven’t had a census since 1932 .I can see why Mayor Akin Swayer and other interested groups feel the census results are not fair and accurate .More like She have conclude to herself if you can’t beat them join them by challenging the preliminary census results not because of their accuracy carried out by an obscure statistician, but because the accuracy they claimed to represent doesn’t reflect the actual head count of the population of some of the areas they claimed to represent. We can not allow the use of state resources for the benefit of a political party just because the leader of that party who happens to be our President wants to extend his rule either by hook or crook .Unlike the statisticians that are paid to deliver an accurate picture of the population of the country, which by the way they failed to do by million miles , Mayor Akin knows her statistics by her finger tips and have produced her own census results ablit her constituency of Freetown , just so we can see the massive variances of the mismatch between the two census results.

    She is right in saying the outcomes of this census results though hugely controversial, it is important for us to remember the size of the local population in any given area of the country has important implications for government funding they receive .For example when it comes to allocating government revenue, if the population of Bonthe is greater than Pujehun , then the people of Pujehun will receive less in funding for health , education , infrastructure projects etc . According to the preliminary census result , taking during the middle of the covid 19 pandemic with all the restrictions in place and the implication that might also have helped to exacerbate to access people or knocking on peoples doors , or as in most rural areas , census foot soldiers would have had it easy to access to peoples homes because in our towns and villages doors are always left open .

    Nevertheless the results showed some regions have seen population explosion, and in some areas a decrease in population . Significantly in some areas there are more males than females. And we know in recent decades ,especially during the RUF wars , more males of fighting age or in some cases child soldiers were used like canon fodder in the wars.I am not at liberty to say more males died than females , but one can safely assumed majority of people who were doing the fighting and killing were young misguided males, that fought at the initial stages of that brutal war mostly in the South before it reached in every corner of Sierra Leone. To me this census is about one individual , Bio the president .His election team are busy laying the groundwork for his re-election. Team Bio are masters of deciet, and political gerrymandering. For the good of our country we need a strong opposition that will give him a run for his money.

  2. The comments made above are inconsistent and a straw man’s argument. The issue at hand here is not whether people participated in the census, its the accuracy, reliability, outcome and currency of the aforesaid census.
    A good statistician does not validate results based on spite. The poster also fails to show a link between his alleged developmental effects and the census,as we are ranked so low on the human development index;perhaps he is postulating that if the census had gone through,Sierra Leone would be developed, which would be a fallacy.
    What is the purpose of the census? The World Bank refused to support the census and regarded it as unnecessary.
    I think the poster by his remarks has shown his ontological perspective, which seems to imply dictatorial beliefs. To conclude, in a democracy, if a significant sector of the populace refuses to participate in a quantitative research project, then the research cannot go ahead. It is the role of the government to convince the people or abandon the exercise, not behave like an immature teen.

  3. Kudos to the Freetown city council team, for their meticulous, fact based, statistical revelation of a closer picture of the population of Western Area, contrary to the predefine partisan, fraudulent exercise, with cooked up figures, that PAOPA called a census. For once, i agree with PAOPA sympathizers like Micheal KanyaKo, who declared that if Sierra Leone is to develop, we should stop looking for cheap political game points. Now,like the United Kindgom mentioned by Mr. Kanyako, the United States just recently conducted its census, upon the expiration of a decade since the last one, as it is done virtually all across the globe, with prior regimes in our nation following this same stipulation.

    Other than a zest to cling onto power by all means necessary, with a plan to use fake population count in creating new parliamentary seats in SLPP strongholds, and by extension using fake election registrations to justify an already planned rig 2023 presidential election, the current regime absolutely have no basis or justification, for this sham, money wasting exercise. Census are done every 10yrs, and if only PAOPA are law abiding, by waiting and allowing the stipulated time to expire, no political party could have objected or make a fuss about the census, regardless of how inaccurate the result would have been.

    Yes, Mr. Kanyako, cheap political stunts design to benefit only a section on the society like what your party has done are among the many reasons our nation continues to dwindle at all level of human development. Your party’s illicit actions in swelling up population counts in their strongholds, while at the same time deflating opposition strongholds, says it all. It’s nothing but a criminal act design to benefit your party, while the rest of the nation suffers.

  4. This is a great piece by Freetown’s mayor. She’s really nailed it. It really beggars belief why the mid-term census results were not calibrated against other data sources, such as the 2017 voters’ register, the 2004 census results, and other sources highlighted in the mayor’s letter, such as educational enrollment and surveys of housing units and slum settlements. These alternative sources, which are at variance with the mid-term census results, should have raised alarm bells and forced Statistics Sierra Leone to not validate the census results. Regrettably, we now have census results that are not fit for purpose.

  5. The Mayor of Freetown has used all her figures and calculations to justify that the city is more populated than the result of the census figures given by the office of statistics. What surprises me more, is that the mayor did not encourage the people of Freetown to come out to be counted but rather stayed quiet while her party members were discouraging the entire populace not to partake in the census. Here we are now she is telling Sierra Leoneans the figures for Freetown in the census is not accurate and she wants a review of the result of her city. Her statement taken from this article, this is how she concluded her query and I quote “I would be most grateful if Statistics Sierra Leone could urgently review the provisional results for the mid-term census for Freetown as the current results clearly significantly undercount the city’s population”.
    Just to remind the mayor also that there is no country on this planet earth that can produce an accurate figures of people based on census. Allow me to throw light on recent census in the United Kingdom. In the UK every household received census paper work encouraging people to fill in their census questionnaires, also included in the bundle, the government was offering a Ten Pounds (£10) voucher to every household that summits their filled questionnaire. Now let ask ourselves this question, why the government of UK has to give out £10 voucher to people who fill in and summit the census questionnaires? Is it that the government is filthy rich, or just wasting out monies from the peoples’ coffer or just encouraging the people to participate in the process to be counted? The later to me obviously is the answer ( encouraging people to participate in the census). But in Sierra Leone, opposition political parties opposed the census vigorously using all media ammunitions that are available on this planet.
    If we want to make Sierra Leone to be a better nation economically, socially, and politically, we need to stop looking for cheap political game points.

    • “What an old man see while sitting, cannot be seen by a young man while standing”. Madam Mayor of the city council of Freetown municipal city, your actions actually shows that you deceived your own people. Devoid of the fact that you were elected under the party colors of the which currently serves as opposition, your educational background and professional experience was just too enough to have addressed this issue earlier on. You really failed to realize that you are the mayor of the city and that your voice matter.

      Think of it wisely and intuitively. Didn’t you betray your own people by being silent all along when opposition members were actively educating the people of Sierra Leoneans not to participate in the census? Where were you when you know that the outcome of this census will will affect your personal ego and your feelings about your people? Think wise and see where it all went wrong.

      In my opinion, I am with the strong conviction that development in all our Cities in Sierra Leone will only be realized if our authorities concern will make the position of a Mayor to be non-political and non-partisan. Let our mayor be elected through merits and not through party colors.

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