Poverty rose by six per cent? You racists, tell that to the birds

It’s been a while since I railed against some foreign news organisation or another; and this has been on purpose. My thinking is, my reacting to something they broadcast will give them even more ‘airtime’.

It’s been a while since I railed against some foreign news organisation or another; and this has been on purpose. My thinking is, my reacting to something they broadcast will give them even more ‘airtime’.

I’m from the ‘a dog may bark but the train keeps moving’ school of thought when it comes to such media organisations. However, every so often, I’m forced to take my head out of the sand and react to some nonsense they have published.

In this case, it is French broadcaster, France 24, that has caused my ire. On Monday, it published an article written by Nicolas Germain, titled ‘Rwanda accused of manipulating poverty statistics’.

This is the gist of the article; according to a nameless source who France 24 quoted, UK-based consultancy firm Oxford Policy Management (it is not affiliated with Oxford University), disputed the methodology that was used to come up with the latest Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey (EICV4) that was released recently by our very won National Institute of Statistics (NISR).

This after the firm did the research and handed over the data for the NISR for publication.

According to this nameless source, “there was a disagreement between OPM (Oxford Policy Management) and Rwanda over the methodology used”.

Bear with me now. So far, all we know is that some unknown person, whether in the OPM, the NISR or in the reporter’s mind (it wouldn’t be the first time for a journalist to invent a source), said that the two organisations disagreed on methodology used to source the data for the EICV4.

Thus far, all that is in dispute is what the EICV4 numbers mean and how they were arrived at. So far so good.  That is a dispute for statisticians and mathematicians.

Where Nicolas Germain and France 24 go off the rails is when they attempt to use the dispute over EICV4 numbers to tar Rwanda’s development strides. That, my friends, is where they lose the plot.

In order to do so, they enlist the aid of renowned Rwanda hater and professor of African law and politics, Belgian Filip Reyntjens. Think I’m being unfair to him by calling him a hater, and therefore a man totally lacking in impartiality? Just do a little research and him and you’ll discover the role he played in pre-1994 Rwanda.

Anyway, if we are to believe France 24 and Reyntjens, the source contacted the academic with OPM’s initial methodology and together they reevaluated the EICV4.

Unsurprisingly, the two found that instead of poverty falling, it had gone up by a whole SIX PERCENT in 2013-2014!

Now, I admit that I’m no expert in the numbers game, but what I will have to call ‘bullshit’ (if you could excuse my language), is Reyntjens and his ‘source’ trying to tell me that despite the increased child enrolment in school, increased agricultural productivity, the increased social protection programmes to help the very poor and the better use of the few resources we have, we’ve gone backwards! How is this possible economically or arithmetically, if you will?

I’m not the only one who disputes Reyntjens’ wonky math. When asked to comment on the academic’s ‘findings’, a spokesperson for the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DfID) said, “we believe the revision of the methodology used to estimate poverty levels for the EICV4 poverty survey was justified”.

The DfID assessment is something that Reyntjens, unsurprisingly, disputes as well (despite that they are actually working on the ground, and he hasn’t stepped on our soil for years).

But as anyone who has either dealt with the man or his academic work will tell you, when it comes to Rwanda, Reyntjens doesn’t think straight or allow his prejudice to be put on the backburner, not even for a little while.

If the editors at France 24 had been fair, they would not have given the article the time of day.  But as I’ve come to expect from them, all standards of fairness and impartiality were thrown out the window when it came to a poor African country.  I hate to say it, but the story and how it was reported was tinged with racist overtones.

I’m not jumping to conclusions. What was this story REALLY about?

A white organsiation, the OPM, does a survey in an African country. It compiles its data and hands over the results to its black African commissioning partner, the NISR.

The African organisation takes a look at the document it receives and thinks to itself, “hold on a minute. This doesn’t seem right”.

It gets its experts to reevaluate the data and comes up with a result. A result not only trusted by the citizenry (because they actually live the results) but by major development partners.

In reaction to such brazen uppity-ness, a white media organization working hand in hand with a white academic moves to tarnish the work on the black African organisation. And after this organization, the entire government.

It is disgusting and it is obvious. But I’ve gotten used to it so it’s unsurprising.

The writer is a journalist


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