Census Off to Shaky Start, but ‘On Course’

— GOL, Int’l Partners urge public to fully participate and “not to politicize or disrupt” the process

In spite of the proclamation by President George M. Weah declaring Friday, November 11, 2022, as a national holiday to kick-start Liberia’s second post-war census, for most Liberians, it seemed like a potentially productive day wasted.

Most Liberians stayed home in adherence to the President’s proclamation, though they remained skeptical that the process would even go on, given the wave of protests across the country over the past week. Last week, due to the failure of the census authority to settle the stipends for enumerators during the training that would subsequently lead to the final selection of both enumerators and supervisors, many young Liberians who had signed up were left stranded at their designated municipalities, some with no food, shelter or transportation to return home. 

But on Census Day, after several hours and with only glimpses of the presence of enumerators in just a few communities across the country, many Liberians took to social media (Facebook) to find out for themselves the truth about the enumeration exercise as declared by President Weah. 

Liberia’s first post-war census was conducted in 2008 and states that the population was a little over five million. 

The population and housing census is among the most complex and massive peacetime exercises a nation can undertake. As mandated in the Liberian Constitution, the census involves the complete enumeration of the population in a country. It generates a wealth of data, including numbers of people, their spatial distribution, age, and gender distribution, as well as their living conditions and other key socioeconomic characteristics.

At the end of the day on Friday, November 11, Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon, posted on his Facebook page: “well, I’m going to bed; thankful God has counted me amongst the living. After 6 pm, still no LISGIS.” 

Many Liberians on social media agreed that, from all indications, it was a day of potential productivity wasted. 

Patrick Honnah, a Liberian journalist, also posted: “So who’s going to take full responsibility and account for this useless national holiday pronouncement? You called the entire country to halt just for this kind of play? Like seriously? It’s after 1 pm. No report whatsoever of enumerators anywhere. Imagine what our partners are saying behind the scenes about our leaders and our country today.”

He argued that the painful part is that nobody would be held accountable for this national embarrassment because society tolerates impunity and nobody is guilty of anything in this society. “This is going free,” he said.

The former secretary general of the leading opposition Unity Party (UP), Mohammed Ali, in a telephone conversation with talk-show host Clarence Jackson, said due to President Weah’s absence just to watch his son Tim Weah play in Qatar for America, he (Ali) would not allow enumerators to count his household.

Presidential Press Secretary, Isaac Solo Kelgbeh, however, clarified that President Weah was counted in the presence of international partners before departing on his 23-day trip, his first stop being Tanger, Morocco. 

President Weah is expected to spend eight days in Qatar to see his son, Tim Weah, play his first World Cup for America and later, the Liberian leader will join counterparts in December for U.S. President Joe Biden’s African summit before returning to Liberia. 

The enumerators staged protests in different parts of the country, including Grand Bassa, Bong, Margibi and Montserrado counties. However, Acting Director-General of the Liberia Institute for Geo-Information Services (LIGIS), Wilmot Smith, said the situation was under control and trained enumerators would receive their money before the kickoff of the enumeration exercise. 

Yet there appears to be some mixed messages coming from LISGIS.  The Deputy Director General for Statistics and Data Process at the Liberia institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) G. Alex M. Williams said Acting Director Wilmot Smith was playing with a serious national issue that has to do with the development of this nation.

“I want to encourage Wilmot Smith to stop going to the media and providing false information to the Liberian people and to the President as a whole. Wilmot Smith is playing with a serious national issue that has to do with the planning and development of this country for the next ten years,” Williams said.

Speaking via mobile on a local radio program on Thursday November 10, Williams said it was unfortunate for Wilmot Smith to inform the public about the Census when over 17,071 enumerators and supervisors that should be counting people in Liberia have not been selected.

“I am encouraging him now to go on LISGIS website and you will not see the final listing of those who have been selected to serve as supervisors and enumerators. Who are those going to be counting our population? There has been no contract signed with supervisors and enumerators,” Williams said.

Williams argued that Smith has no understanding of statistics and census but continues to mislead the population because supervisors and enumerators have three days that they will go canvass (preview or do an analysis of the enumeration area) and know the boundary of the enumeration area and the colleges (area to be covered by an enumerator) they are going to work in and later do the household listing which is to number each of the structure within their assigned enumeration area. 

He said an enumerator has to number the numbers of households because he or she has to have such a record before starting the count.

According to him, the above action is intended to inform the enumerators of the progress that will be made during the counting of structures and households in a particular locality, which has not been done. 

“Besides, there are serious and difficult challenges all across the country. We have people protesting in Nimba, Bassa, and Bong. These people have not received their money and don’t know if they are being selected as supervisors or enumerators and you think we will not have a census tomorrow? I am saying this in the public and I am alive,” Williams said.

He called on Smith and others who he says “are hijacking this national process to stop doing such because they are embarrassing the government and the country and, if they continue to do so and force it to go to census Friday, November 11, we will not count even 50 percent of the nation’s population.”

Williams continued: “this process is not organized; it’s dysfunctional, marred by corruption and incompetence.”  

However, the Government of Liberia and International Partners reaffirmed their continued commitment to the successful conduct of the 2022 National Population and Housing Census by the Government, which is expected to run from November 11 to 22, 2022. 

In a statement issued on Friday, November 11, signed by officials of the country’s leading development partners, including UN Resident Coordinator Niels Scott, USAID Mission Director Jim Wright, World Bank Country Manager Khwima Nthara, and others, said the census data are critical for good governance, policy formulation, development planning, crisis prevention, mitigation and response, social welfare programs and business market analyses, among others. 

“Given this, the International Community wishes to encourage all not to politicize or disrupt the ongoing 2022 National Population and Housing Census. We have observed with dismay calls by some elements within the country to boycott the Census,” the statement said. 

According to the statement, despite some initial challenges, the Census is now on track and has commenced as of 11 November 2022, though the enumerators are yet to commence the counting of households and structures. Any further disruption would lead to delays in, or possible abortion, of the Census which will benefit no one,” the statement indicated.

“The Partners, led by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), are providing technical and financial support to the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services, the agency of the Government with the authority to conduct Census taking to ensure the census house listing and enumeration is completed within the timeframe of 11-22 November 2022 as announced by the Government,” the statement said.

According to the statement, the International Partners’ support is aimed at ensuring that the 2022 National Population and Housing Census is of high quality and upholds international principles and standards.

The unique advantage of the census is that it represents the entire statistical universe, down to the smallest geographical/ administrative area of a country or region. 

The Government of Liberia and its International partners have appealed to all citizens, residents, and visitors to peacefully support the ongoing 2022 National Population and Housing Census by welcoming the Census Enumerators to their homes and facilities and allowing them to do their work. 

“Remember that the Census takes place every 10 years, and the process gives an individual the opportunity to be heard, and counted. So let’s make this Census count,” the partners’ statement said.