Ghana's 2020 digital census [RP: IT to help female migrants from rural regions]


Youyou Zhou in Accra Ghana / June 18, 2019 / Quartz Africa


…2020 will be the first time Ghana uses electronic questionnaires to survey the population, a practice only a few African nations have succeeded in doing, and a lot more are trying to adopt going forward.


For a country like Ghana, where data on its residents are incomplete and infrequently updated, the census provides a rare opportunity to collect comprehensive data on desegregated population and map all housing structures in the country. Aided by digital technologies, the census results can be useful to allocate resources and formalize much more of the country’s economy.

But census isn’t only about updating population figures. The categories and questions designed into the questionnaire will help collect quality data on human and household conditions across the country. The Ghanaian government wants to pack as many questions as possible in one questionnaire because the kind of desegregated data the census collects isn’t available elsewhere in Ghana.

Ghana’s government wants to find out as much as possible about its citizens right down to how they manage their waste… That can help us determine how disease can spread and what has to be done to improve sanitation within the country…

The scale of data the census collects is crucial to the government’s effort to formalize larger parts of Ghana’s economy, where over 80% of the employed non-farming population work in informal sectors… Jobs such as street vendors, taxi drivers or head porters, most of whom are female migrant workers from rural regions working in urban areas,  aren’t registered with the government. 

The country has tried to roll out a national identification system multiple times in the past without success. There isn’t a uniform address system, either: Many in rural areas do not have a numbered address and rely on a nearby landmark such as a tree, or a gate, to indicate where they live. The current administration wants to solve both problems: The government is pushing residents to register biometric national ID cards (Ghana cards) that assign Ghanians unique ID numbers, as well as building a formal addressing system to document all housing structures in the country since 2017.

“To fight inequality, we must count everyone, and make everyone accountable to pay their fair share in taxes” – Ghana VP Bawumia

A complete database of its people and buildings could help inform policy decisions on taxation and social welfare for the government: a step toward a more formalized economy.


In 2010, the government had to postpone the census from March to September because of a funding gap. This year, a digital census imposes new challenges: GSS currently doesn’t have the right gadgets, and the money isn’t in place yet to procure 60,000 of them.

The tablets currently being used for the trial census have to be charged every hour or so. Some new tablets Ghana hopes to acquire will be solar charged to be used in areas without electricity. They also need to be water resistant as heavy rains are expected in Ghana close to the end of March.

One source of the gadgets may come from countries that have conducted their censuses digitally. GSS is working with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), a development partner for the census, targeting especially two African countries, Malawi and Kenya. Malawi conducted its first digital census last year with the support from UNFPA: among the 20,000 tablets they used, 15,000 were from the UK, while the other 5,000 were bought by the government.



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