Statistics—Its Role, Promises and Challenges in a Country on a Path of Growth and Development

March 20, 2014

in Around the World in Statistics

By Mulugeta Gebregziabher, PhD, and Samia Zekaria, MS

Ethiopia: A Nation of Rapid Growth and Development

Ethiopia, located in the horn of Africa, has an estimated population of 81.7 million with a male-to-female ratio of 1.2 (Ethiopia Central Statistical Agency [CSA], 2011). Data from international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and United States Agency for International Development (USAID), show Ethiopia is on a fast trajectory of economic growth and social development (The Economist, 2011).

For example, in 1994-95, the number of pupils in primary school was 3 million, whereas by 2010-11 the number had risen to 16.7 million—an increase of more than 450% (Ethiopian Ministry of Education [MOE], 2012). Secondary-school enrollment also grew more than five-fold during this period.

Figure 1: Primary (Grade 1-8) and Secondary (9-12) School Enrollment in Ethiopia
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Similarly, the number of universities has grown from fewer than five in 2000 to more than 30 in 2013. Enrollment in undergraduate degree programs has increased from 138,159 (24% females) in 2004 to 447,693 (27% females) in 2011. Enrollment in post-graduate degree programs also has increased from 3,604 (9.2% females) to 20,150 (13.8% females) during the same period (MOE 2011). More detailed education statistics can be found at the Ethiopian MOE website at

Statistics Education in Ethiopia

The progress in higher education has had a direct impact on the growth of statistics programs in Ethiopia. For example, the number of statistics/biostatistics programs has increased from just one to more than 20 in the last decade.

When the first author of this article was a student at Addis Ababa University from 1991 to 1994, it was the only degree-granting statistics program in the country. Now there are more than 15 statistics and five biostatistics programs that offer bachelor’s of science or master’s of science degrees. Additionally, two universities are considering beginning doctorate programs in statistics.

This level of expansion is not without its challenges. These new universities and programs suffer from a lack of sufficiently trained professors that could lead to lower-quality graduates.

Impact of Statistics

While it is not easy to quantify the impact of statistics education in the country, there is no denying that the graduates of these programs have contributed greatly to the overall positive trajectory of development of Ethiopia. The main employer of statistics graduates—the Central Statistics Agency (CSA)—is the statistical arm of the government and has the important mission of producing comprehensive, timely, reliable and standardized statistical information using scientific statistical methods; lead the country’s statistical system; become a centre of official statistical training; and fulfill all users’ needs through information and communication technology-based data-archiving, analysis and dissemination systems (

The CSA, led by the second author of this article, also has a mandate to coordinate the national statistical system (NSS) and play a leading role in the statistical capacity-building activities of various government entities ( These are clear indications that statistics is playing a critical role in assessing the performance of government policies in the lives of the Ethiopian people.

The National Statistical Development Strategy

Cognizant of the importance of readily available statistical information for proper planning and monitoring of policies and programs, Ethiopia in 2009 embarked on a five-year National Statistical Development Strategy (NSDS). This strategy was developed through a series of consultations involving all key players in the Ethiopian National Statistical System (CSA, 2013). These consultations have identified challenges related to data-gaps, data-quality, capacity-constraints and problems encountered during the implementation of previous similar efforts.

One of the key provisions of the strategy is to relate the NSDS to the monitoring and evaluation of Ethiopia’s five-year growth and transformation plan (GTP). This is a clear recognition of the essential role of statistics as an enabling tool for decision-making in the development efforts of the country. Thus, the GTP will continue to benefit from efforts by statisticians as it fosters the further advancement of statistics.

Statistics in Agricultural Development

Ethiopia is an agrarian country, with agriculture accounting for 44% of the GDP (Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, 2012). A recent innovation that has greatly benefited from statistical data is the Ethiopian Commodity Exchanges (ECX).

Created in 2008, the ECX has completely transformed the grain market in Ethiopia by collecting and disseminating prices of commodities to farmers in their hometowns, tilting the advantage toward the farmers and consumers by removing middle men from the equation.

It is our observation that farmers have started to use their cell phones to check prices before they sell their products. These types of efforts have helped the country to register economic growth that is not matched by any non-oil producing country in Africa. For example, during the 2010-11 fiscal year, Ethiopia registered an 11.4% real GDP growth rate that resulted in an increase in per capita income and reductions in the absolute poverty index and food poverty index (MOFED, 2012). Ethiopia has been widely reported to be among those nations that will meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (USAID, 2012).

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Ethiopian Statisticians, At Home and Abroad

As professor of biostatistics at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the first author is contributing to improving global society through statistics education, methods research and global outreach. He teaches biostatistics and epidemiology graduate students and contributes to curriculum development. He also co-developed a Summer Institute in Bayesian Biostatistics at MUSC that enrolls participants with different levels of statistical experience from across the globe. His research involves collaboration with clinicians who are working with large, complex longitudinal datasets that are characterized by problems, such as missing data and multivariate outcomes. He has contributed to methodology development that helps address these challenges.

The second author is the director general of the CSA, where she is making a direct contribution to the growth and transformation of statistics in Ethiopia. She is responsible for guaranteeing the quality and integrity of Ethiopian data to end-users and policymakers.

The first author also has participated in global educational and capacity-building efforts. For example, he has organized workshops and short courses and presented in conferences (including the annual conference of the Ethiopian Statistical Association) at Ethiopian universities. He has assisted with curriculum development efforts in Ethiopian biostatistics and public-health programs. He also serves the statistical community through professional leadership posts (currently he is serving as president of the South Carolina Chapter of the ASA and past-president of the Statistical Society of Ethiopians in North America). He is a founding member of a 501(c) entity called Ethiopian Diaspora for Research and Education Advancement through Partnership (, which links Ethiopian diaspora professionals, their host institutions and other friends of Ethiopia with the critical needs and challenges of their home country. These efforts are intended to generate a “brain gain”, ameliorating the “brain drain” that is one of the greatest challenges for Ethiopia and other countries in the developing world.


  • CSA (2011). Central Statistical Agency Report. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • Africa’s impressive economic growth. The Economist Jan 6, 2011 (
  • CSA (2013). Statistics in Ethiopia. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • MOE (2010). Education Statistics Annual Abstract 2008–09. Addis Ababa: Ministry of Education of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
  • MOE (2012). Education Statistics Annual Abstract 2010–11. Addis Ababa: Ministry of Education of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
  • MOEFD (2012). Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • USAID (2012). The Millennium Development Goals Report.
  • World Bank (2011),

Gebregziabher is associate professor of biostatistics in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina. He also is a member of the American Statistical Association, ENAR, International Biometric Society. Zekaria is director general of Ethiopia’s Central Statistical Agency and a member of the Ethiopian Statistical Association.