The opposition denounces the results of the mid-term census in Sierra Leone
Interim results from Sierra Leone’s Mid-Term Population and Housing Census (MTPHC) show that the country’s population has increased by 6%.
Data released on Monday shows the country’s population now stood at 7,541,641 in 2021, with an increase of 449,528 from the last census in 2015.
Officials from Statistics Sierra Leone (STATS SL) presented the findings at a press briefing. They show that the female population of Sierra Leone is consistently higher than its male counterpart, comprising 3,716,263 males and 3,825,378 females, a sex ratio of 0.97 in favor of females.
The MTPHC 2021 was the first ever mid-term census in Sierra Leone. It was also the first digital population census conducted in the country.
General Statistician and Census Officer Osman Sankoh described the development as a “remarkable achievement” for Sierra Leone.
“Sierra Leone can now be proud to have conducted its first digital census, as a few other countries have done – Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Botswana,” Prof Sankoh said.
“It is good to see that Liberia, Nigeria and several others are following us now. We are a small country but we can also lead in Africa and we should be proud of this capacity that God has given us as a country.
However, the announcement drew condemnation, with critics of the process, particularly opposition politicians, questioning its legitimacy.
Some opposition parties, including the main opposition All Peoples Congress (APC), had opposed the census, citing a number of concerns.
The APC conducted the last census in 2015 when it was in power. This process has been criticized by the current ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) as flawed, which formed the basis for the conduct of the MTPHC 2021.
The APC issued a statement urging its supporters not to participate in the process. As a result, many enumerators have been driven out into opposition-dominated parts of the country, with reports indicating that some have been physically attacked as they seek to collect census data.
This may have affected the census result.
The data shows that out of the five regions of the country, three traditionally known to be APC-dominated regions (Northeast, Northwest and West) have recorded a reduction in their population compared to the last census, while the eastern and southern regions, traditional strongholds of the SLPP, have seen population growth.
While the northern region recorded the highest population of 2,508,201 in the 2015 census, the new data reveals that the eastern region now has the highest population at 1,939,122.
An even bigger surprise is the huge reduction in population of the West Zone (the capital Freetown and surrounding areas), which ranks fourth with a total population of 1,268,757.
Freetown Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyer questioned the logic behind this. It had a population of 1,055,964 in 2015, and according to new data, its population has shrunk by nearly half, to 606,701.
“Freetown is experiencing unprecedented rural-urban migration, with an increase in informal settlements and severe overcrowding weighing on service delivery,” the mayor lamented in a tweet.
“The Freetown City Council land price database has over 107,000 houses, excluding slums. [It is] disbelief to see claims that the population of the city (WAU) has almost halved,” she added.
A spokesperson for the statistics agency said they would answer any questions during the subsequent public engagement on the interim results.
But it seems that the agency anticipated these questions, as stated in Professor Sankoh’s statement during the presentation ceremony. He said the results showed the population as it was on census night.
According to the Statistician General, some people moved to their towns and villages to be counted in the census, a phenomenon he described as “the influential overnight migration to the country”.
“So it should come as no surprise that a city like Freetown lost most of its people to influential census night migration within the country. They went to the villages, slept there the night of the census and returned the next day. They were never counted in Freetown,” Professor Sankoh said.
He added that chiefdoms, districts and collectively regions that are more successful in sensitizing their communities to spend census night in their areas would have more people reported in any census.