Frustrations of having no data in 1966

SHARE   |   Monday, 03 October 2016   |   By Keitebe Kgosikebatho
Frustrations of having no data in 1966

Scientific evidence and facts on the ground are testimony that the Botswana of 1966 is not the same as Botswana of now. The country’s transition from one of the poorest countries in the world to a middle-income economy which is now deemed one of the world’s development success stories is testimony to this. Former Government Statistician Dr. Derek Hudson on Wednesday shared a candid and insightful history of Botswana's demographic transition at a seminar hosted by Statistics Botswana as part of their BOT50 celebrations. Reflecting on the country’ s demographic transition, Dr Hudson stated that at the time of independence in 1966 Botswana had practically non-existent statistical data in place and they had to start from nothing to compile statistics which the country at the time desperately needed in order to make sound economic decisions and in order to receive funding from international organisations. According to Dr Hudson, this was not an easy task at all, besides the limited resources which were at their disposal at the time he says they had to basically formulate ways and strategies which were never tested before to gather statistical data from the nation.

The results were intriguing to say the least. He for example remembers how he was amazed by the fact that during the 1971 Household Income and Expenditure Survey which he designed, executed, and finally analysed the average Motswana woman wanted to have at least 8 children, four girls and four boys. “In 1971 children were seen as valuable assets so much that more women in Botswana wanted to have more children than they were actually going to have,” he said. As years passed on, in the same survey that was conducted in 1993, statistical data was now showing that the number of babies which Batswana women desired to have, had dropped by almost half. “Parents started thinking of children as an expense rather than assets,” he said. This, according to Dr Hudson, was influenced by several factors including the fact that more parents had started sending their children to school and were incurring costs and the success of family planning units in introducing and mobilising women to use contraceptives. He, however, recalls that because statistics surveys and activities were fairly new to Batswana they had to devise ways of approaching people without looking like they were intruding or being insensitive. In 1974/75, Rural Income Distribution Survey which he designed, executed and finally analysed he was assisted by Adolph Hirschfeld, who was the Executive Officer for the survey.

Dr Hudson  recalls that during this survey when a sample of women were asked how many children they wanted to have, all of them gave the same answer; that it is God who decide on how many children he would want to give to an individual. It was when the question was changed to; “We all know that God determines the number of children you want to have, but if YOU could choose for yourself, how many children would YOU want to have?” that women gave a number of their desire. The data gathered and compiled by Statistics Botswana, according to Dr Hudson, has played a vital part in the country’s economy and for that they should be commended. “Statistics Botswana should be congratulated for filling in the gap when the country most needed it to,” he said, adding that statistics produced by Statistics Botswana is highly valued by economists and other experts around the world.

Hudson’s background
Dr Hudson graduated with a Ph.D. in Mathematical statistics from Imperial College, London, in 1964. He served in the Central Statistics Office, Botswana from 1971 to 1975 as a Government Statistician and was then succeeded by Phopi Nteta. Dr Hudson was awarded the Presidential Order of Meritorious Service by President Sir Ketumile Masire In 1989. Some of his achievements while at the Central Statistics Office include: Improvement of the data quality of National Accounts. Many years after he had left the CSO, the same question, but without reference to God, was repeated by subsequent statisticians at the CSO. The comparisons between the two sets of results, laid the foundation for measuring Botswana’s Demographic Transition. He also designed Botswana’s first ever Poverty Datum Line, which gave Botswana’s economists a base line from which further economic progress could be measured.  In 1976, he designed the first-ever Pula basket, based on Botswana’s import and export patterns. He later became the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Botswana.  In 1976, he produced Botswana’s first-ever Balance of Payments Table and in 1991, he became Botswana’s first-ever Banking Ombudsman.