Accountability starts with Countability

By: Wouter Dijkstra

mathsIn Uganda, even at the peoples parliament of Ekimeeza, where intellectuals are supposed to be gathered, there is a substantial lack of numbers, statistics and measureable facts. People have not mastered advanced counting and have no logical perception of values and numbers. 2000 – 500 = a big problem for a lot of people. So how can they understand context? When they are presented with a series of numbers, for instance the amount of money coming in to the country through development aid, there are very few who can comprehend what is meant by 400 million dollars or 700.000 Euro.

Without these countable facts, arguments turn into subjective accusations. The first Ekimeeza I visited was about the constituency development fund, a rather unfortunate name for a grand of 10 million shillings (€ 3600) a year. It was perceived by most of the participants as a fund that should build the roads or start up business in the districts. That this money was not even enough to pay for the fuel used by an MP’s car was only mentioned by a visiting MP, later in the Ekimeeza. A substantial amount of people were angry at MP’s for not bringing change with their 10 million shillings and accused them of using the money for personal gain. Although this is in certain cases definitely true, the discussion lost its context because of the inability of participants to place these numbers in the wider picture.

Even well educated speakers have problems with quantivying their arguments. Numbers which they want to apply in their speech are often times incomprehensible and missing the right number with two or three zeroes. One man, an economist, who in the last Ekimeeza discussion on employment came up with figures, repeatedly had the argument right but the numbers wrong. Instead of 320.000 government employed people he talked about the 3200 employed. Twice, instead of 31 million he said just thirty one. This was the only man who really took the opportunity of pointing out these statistics. And even though he made some big miscalculations, it made the whole argument more understandable.

The two major advantages of statistics are that no one is accountable for them and that it gives a clear overview of the situation discussed. Subjective claim by individuals concerning malpractice by government are in Uganda often used to sue and punish individuals for Libel. Fear to be picked up by secret police for something said is very real in Uganda and prevents people from being explicit. The cases known where critics get picked up and disappear are numerous, especially when you have no people who have something to say in society. This amounts to the majority of Ugandan Society.

By using numbers, claims can be strengthened and depersonalized by comprehensible, transparent and true figures. An important issue within this practice of (ac)countability is visualization of data. With rows of numbers people cannot be convinced. They lack the capacity to place the numbers in a context and will therefore not be interested. To make the numbers potent, they should be visualized in a comprehensible way.  Required are graphs, examples and recognizable symbols. ‘41%’ might not be understandable to a great number of people, However if you visualize this by drawing a pie chart, the number becomes real.

In all parts of Ugandan society there is a great lack of solid data. This makes society vulnerable to insinuations, lies, inconsequence, unreliability, insecurity and so on. Countability is therefore an essential part of accountability.

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2 responses to “Accountability starts with Countability


    Interesting study, more political freedom = more wealth! Something for your essay perhaps? Ciao LizzyLove

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