When South Africa's statistician-general pulled the plug on a keynote speaker at a recent conference, he ignited a vicious debate on the strength of Africa's statistics, and what should be done to fix them. Oddly enough, this may be exactly what Africa's long-neglected numbers need.
Morten Jerven was on his way to Addis Ababa to deliver a keynote speech on Tuesday at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), when suddenly he wasn't.
Waiting to board a plane in Vancouver he got a message and then a phone call telling him not to bother. His speech had been cancelled.
Jerven, understandably, was a little aggrieved. He has just written a book - Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It - and he was due to present his findings to the one group of people who could actually use them: the assembled economists, development specialists and statisticians attending what is Africa's major economic talk shop.
So he started asking questions.
Why was his speech cancelled, and who cancelled it? The answer he received was unexpected.
Statistics South Africa is universally considered as the best national statistics office on...