The Search for Reliable Data
The Democratic Republic of the Congo
By: Edward Sloan & Kayemba Mvula
As a research organization specializing in data collection in complex and challenging environments, Forcier and its staff in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) watched with fascination as the electoral and vote-counting process unfolded in the country over the last several weeks.
After a two-year delay, presidential and legislative elections were held on December 30th, 2018, representing an opportunity for the country to witness its first peaceful and democratic transfer of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. Incumbent Joseph Kabila, barred from running for a third term, backed his former Defense Minister, Emmanuel Shadary, who was opposed by two candidates from the opposition, Félix Tshisekedi and Martin Fayulu.
A few days before the election, the Congo Research Group, along with the Bureau d’études, de Recherches, et de Consulting International (BERCI) and Ipsos South Africa, conducted a poll, which indicated that Fayulu was the clear favorite to win the contest. Their data showed that he would win 47% of the vote, to Tshisekedi’s 24% and Shadary’s 19%. Meanwhile, many analysts expected the current Kabila regime to try to manipulate the vote in favor of Shadary, and on election day there were reports of voting machines breaking down and incomplete electoral lists. Therefore, some were surprised when DRC’s electoral commission, the Commission Eléctorale Nationale Indépendante (CENI), declared neither the winner – Tshisekedi was the victor with 39% of the vote
Adding doubts to the results’ veracity, leaders of the Catholic Church in DRC, who deployed 40,000 observers on election day, reported that its data did not indicate that Tshisekedi had won – and eventually, they provided partial results that showed Fayulu had won with about 60% of the vote. At around the same time, partial results from CENI were leaked, which indicated similar numbers as those found by the Church.
No matter how we look at it, the lack of reliable, objective and local polling in DRC has created an atmosphere of uncertainty that can pose a threat to the stability of the country. Different institutions with real or perceived biases have published vastly different numbers – the Congo Research Group is seen by some as Western imperialists, CENI as controlled by Kabila, and the Church as a longstanding ally of the opposition. Not only can their varying numbers be used – or appear to be used – to advance a political agenda, and therefore dismissed or contested by others, but the reality of the situation is lost in the shuffle. Who actually won? The result is that different groups feel wronged, which can fuel conflict. More importantly, now that Tshisekedi is president, what will he set out to accomplish? What do the Congolese people want and need? There are few polls on this to refer to and there has not been a census in DRC since 1984.
The DRC is not alone in this of course. It is an issue that plagues many African countries, as national statistics systems across the continent remain weak. Data could and should be driving policy decisions. How can a government build schools, or hospitals, without knowing what the demand for them will be? How do businesses make investment decisions with so little information on the citizenry and consumers?
Indeed, reliable data is a crucial component for establishing security and development. But because such information can also make leaders accountable and democratic processes harder to manipulate, there are many actors who prefer to stunt efforts to get to the facts, or seek to contaminate them. Indeed, data collection – just like polling – only helps us get to the truth of the matter if it is conducted in the right manner.
It is for this reason that Forcier strives to ensure the quality and reliability of the data we collect. This means making sure questions are asked in a neutral, unbiased manner; that enumerators do not influence respondents; that data remains confidential; that enumerators are properly trained and hail from the communities that are being surveyed; and that the proper conclusions are drawn from the data in the analytical reports we produce. Since our founding, these measures have allowed us to give clients a detailed understanding of the environment they are working in, and to provide them with recommendations for how best to serve their target population, whether it be beneficiaries of development programs or potential customers.
With more widespread polling and data collection in DRC, and with these quality control measures in hand, the country as a whole could reap the benefits too, and avoid repeated cycles of instability and unsatisfactory governance.
Forcier Consulting Group