Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 July 2020:
There was mixed emotions on Tuesday, when news broke that president Bio was going to be on national television – three days after the deadly protest by youths in Makeni, which left five people dead and dozens injured after they were shot by soldiers and police.
Many thought the president was going to talk about the deadly incident, and possibly express sympathy for the bereaved families. They were wrong. The president, a retired Brigadier, chose instead to announce his decision to conduct a mid-term population and housing census at the end of this year.
According to political analysts, the 2020 national census will give the government an opportunity to redraw and make significant changes to the country’s political landscape, which could give the ruling party a massive electoral advantage in 2023.
Conducting a census in the middle of a pandemic is fraught with enormous political risks, as the former government of President Ernest Bai Koroma found out, for which he was heavily criticised by many, expecially by one Julius Maada Bio – leader of the then oppositon SLPP.
This is what Maada Bio said to president Koroma back then: “As we mourn our compatriots who have fallen victim of the deadly Ebola virus – either as health workers or ordinary citizens, and as we all obey the emergency regulations put in place to contain the virus, the ruling APC party is busy putting in place all sorts of clandestine measures to ensure another rigging of the forthcoming local council, presidential and parliamentary elections. One such means is the 2015 Population and Housing Census.”
Today, Julius Maada Bio is at State House as president. This is what he told the people of Sierra Leone, outlining the reasons why he has decided to conduct the 2020 census in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic:
“Fellow Sierra Leoneans, in order to help us plan properly, ensure equitable distribution of resources, and foster economic and social development, Government has decided to conduct a Mid-Term Population and Housing Census across the country this year.
“Data from this Mid-Term Population and Housing Census will undoubtedly inform and guide the implementation of various development programmes including the 2019-2023 Medium Term National Development Plan (MTNDP) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Equally, statistical indicators derived from the census will show progress made and challenges to be addressed in the overall development of the country. Therefore, the conduct of this census and results emanating from it should be treated with the utmost sincerity and professionalism.
“Historically, Sierra Leone, conducted its earliest census in 1802, in what is now known as the Western Area. This was followed in 1901 with a complete count in the Western Area and sample estimates in the provincial areas. Similar censuses were conducted in 1911,1921,1931, and 1948. Modern day Censuses were conducted in 1963, 1974, 1985, 2004 and 2015.
“This Mid-Term Population and Housing Census, as with mid-term population surveys all over the world, will be conducted this year by Statistics Sierra Leone. It will update and take stock of significant gaps in the 2015 Population and Housing Census.
“It will also provide reliable baseline data to assess the impact of the Government’s key development interventions in respect of the Medium-Term National Development Plans (MTNDP) and the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
“I am informed that a new and improved methodology, (Computer-Assisted Personal Interviews – CAPI), will be used for the very first time to conduct a census in this country. This census will be done at no risk to staff and respondents with respect to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
“Fellow Sierra Leoneans, my Government has committed 14 Billion Leones to funding the activities of the Mid-Term Population and Housing Census. The World Bank and the United Nations Population Fund have made significant funding commitments. Other partners have also demonstrated strong interest in supporting this important national exercise.
“I have been advised by the Minister of Planning and Economic Development on the state of preparedness for the Mid- Term Population and Housing Census this year. Statistics Sierra Leone has commenced preparatory activities including the updating of cartographic maps.
“Given this background, I now, hereby, order that a Mid- Term Population and Housing Census of all inhabitants of Sierra Leone commence on the 4th day of December 2020.”