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Sierra Leone launches controversial census

By AFP
10 December 2021   |   4:25 pm
Sierra Leone launched a nationwide census Friday, despite opposition groups pledging to boycott the process over fears it will be used to gerrymander electoral districts in the West African country.

Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio poses during an interview in Freetown, Sierra Leone April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Olivia Acland

Sierra Leone launched a nationwide census Friday, despite opposition groups pledging to boycott the process over fears it will be used to gerrymander electoral districts in the West African country.

In a blow to the government, the World Bank has also backed out of funding the census, raising questions this week about the adequacy of preparations.

President Julius Maada Bio announced plans for a nationwide census last year, which he said would aid the government’s development agenda.

The nation of about eight million people is one of the poorest in the world and is still recovering from a 1991-2002 civil war and the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola epidemic.

Sierra Leone’s political opposition is deeply sceptical of the motives for conducting a census.

The All Peoples’ Congress (APC) party this month lashed the project as a “dastardly attempt to skew the statistics” in Bio strongholds in the south and east of the country, and urged its supporters to boycott.

Census data is being collected by a 15,000-strong force of enumerators, according to the government.

However, the World Bank said in a letter dated Tuesday that it was withdrawing funding and technical assistance over concerns that the enumerators were poorly trained.

It urged the government to address this and other issues to avoid collecting poor-quality data, according to the letter, seen by AFP.

The government on Thursday called the decision “shocking and unfortunate” and said in a reply that it was unaware of any major technical problems that would affect the census.