Swaziland successfully undertakes first digital census

SZL_unct_censusEnumerator conducting an interview at Sigangeni community in the Hhohho region during the 2017 Housing & Population Census. UNFPA ©2017


The 29th of April, 2017 went down in national history as the commencement of the first census data collection exercise in the country to utilize mobile Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The 7th official census in Swaziland, the 2017 Housing & Population Census, is the very first to go digital, making it the second, after Lesotho to adopt this approach in the SADC region.  

The use of ICT devices, tablets, to collect census data worked very well and experiences from Swaziland will help countries that are taking the digital technology route to conduct their censuses in the coming months and years. ICT brought with it improved efficiencies in a number of ways including minimizing human error; cutting down on data processing time as well as more accurate and centralised monitoring of the data on a day to day basis. At a practical level, this meant that the National Census Team was able keep track of populations that had been counted, and those that had not been counted, enabling this Team to intervene timely where necessary.

Another distinctive element of the Swaziland 2017 census was the partnership forged between the Government of Swaziland, through the Central Statistical Office, and MTN Swaziland, the largest mobile network operator in the country where a closed network system was specifically designed to facilitate communication among all members of the Census Team, including enumerators. This subsidized free flow of communication made it easier for enumerators to reach out to their supervisors for real-time guidance when they encountered problems. It also facilitated and enabled easy transmission of census data to the national central repository point on a daily basis.

As a cost minimizing strategy, one of the key recruitment strategies was the engagement of field staff (e.g. census enumerators and supervisors) to collect data in areas in which they normally reside. Practically, this meant that teams were able to get by with minimal needs for transportation and accommodation. This also had the advantage that they were familiar with the communities assigned to them. A South-South cooperation between the Government of Swaziland and South Africa resulted in a loaning agreement between the two countries for the use of 3,000 digital tablets, collaboration that saved the Government of Swaziland over US$700,000 in procurement costs.

Further, the UNFPA East and Southern Africa Office, supported the participation of 21 African Young Statisticians and Demographers (YASD) from 7 countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Swaziland) to gain hands-on experience in the implementation of a national census, particularly in the use of digital technology for census data collection.

This group of young people, under the auspices of the Association of Young Statisticians and Demographers, were attached to the national Central Statistics Office and worked alongside the Government Census Team to support different census components based on their expertise. The idea is to continue to support the Association of Young Statisticians and Demographers to further strengthen its capacity for the implementation of digital census in the Africa region.

Being such a large national undertaking, the 2017 national census was not without challenges. Mobilizing sufficient funds for the census proved more difficult than initially anticipated, and involved UNFPA working with the Government to approach other development partners to fund the gap in government resources. UNFPA’s total contribution to census activities was US$400,000 and other UN agencies (UNICEF, WHO, UNDP, WFP and UNAIDS) contributed a total of US$74,000.

Another challenge was that data collection for enumerators assigned to rural areas proved to be slightly more difficult than those in urban settings. This was because of the vaster distances between homesteads and the fact that enumerators had to walk these distances. The Government of Swaziland is putting together this enormous data that has been collected from the people of Swaziland, checking it to ensure that data from all communities in the country is accounted for. Currently the data is being validated and preparation of the reports, in various phases, will follow suite.