AS a little girl growing up in the Omusati Region, Ottillie Mwazi (OM) never thought she would one day produce statistics to enhance national and regional development. Today, she is doing research on Data-Driven Decision Making for her doctorate, with a closer look at the potential of having current data and information that are of high quality to inform strategic decisions at both national, regional and international level.
Mwazi is also the newly appointed Deputy Statistician-General at the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) where she hopes to explore innovative ways of producing and disseminating timely, relevant and quality data for decision making, amongst others.
Speaking to Confidente’s Marianne Nghidengwa (MN), the mother of two spoke passionately about her career, contributing towards the NSA’s continued success and spending quality time with her loved ones.
MN: Briefly tell us about yourself and background?
OM: I am married to the most loving, caring, supportive husband – Regan Sankwasa Mwazi, for many good years and we are blessed with two beautiful daughters Nsozi and Loini. I was born and grew up in Ogongo village in Omusati Region. My late loving parents tate Filippus Mweupala Iiyambo and meme Loini Ambondo Thomas provided me with lots of love and unwavering parental support. I thank them for sending me to school and instilling in me the importance of education at an early age.
I attended primary school at Onamundindi and Ogongo Combined Schools respectively, as well as Oshigambo High School. I did my undergraduate studies at Lenior-Rhyne University, North Carolina in the USA with a scholarship from the Lutheran World Federation and Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America. I further pursued my Master’s Degree in Business Studies with Management College of Southern Africa (MANCOSA) and I am now busy pursuing my Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) with UNAM. I am a goal-oriented, self-confident and result driven person with positive attitude towards what I do and excited about life in general.
After my graduation in 1991, I worked for FNB (former Barclays bank) as Banking Clerk for one year and in 1992 I joined the Central Statistics Office that was later re-named to Central Bureau of Statistics under the National Planning Commission. I started as a statistician and was responsible for census data processing of the 1991 census. Over the years, I worked in different portfolios and ranks, including managing several national and regional projects. That exposed me to understand the broader expectations of the office in reaching its mandate as per the Statistics Act.
MN: Congratulations on your appointment as Deputy Statistician-General, how did that come about?
OM: Thank you very much! I have been in the statistical production industry for most of my career life that spans over 25 years so I became quite passionate about producing data to enhance national and regional development. I am currently doing a research on “Data-Driven Decision Making“ for my doctorate and through the literature I came to realise the potential of having current data and information that are of high quality to inform strategic decisions at both national, regional and international levels. When I saw this p o s i t i o n advertised, I felt it is time for me to contribute towards the production of such required current data and information as per NSA mandate but at strategic level.
MN: What key areas will you give priority to?
OM: To engage our data users and producers for me to understand their data needs as well as required capacity and technical support during data production. Such consultations will ensure that relevant data is collected using sound methods and thus will increase the use of data during planning and decision making. I am also hoping t o explore innovative ways of producing and disseminating t i m e ly, relevant and quality data for decision making by looking at how best the designed data can be complimented by organic data given limited resource to collect primary data during surveys and census since they are costly. Identify critical statistical technical skills gaps that hampers timely data production at NSA and empower the technical team by building the required statistical capacity to achieve NSA mission and vision. To inspire teamwork and instil positive attitude towards a culture of producing timely and quality data for planning and decision making as per agreed national and international standards and best practices.
MN: The NSA data formulation methods have been questioned in the media before, how will you ensure it is not questioned further?
OM: First of all I would like to assure our data users that NSA applies statistical methods that are agreed upon at international level and they are considered to be sound and of best practises. Some of the methods are customised nationally but also agreed upon by key stakeholders before they are applied. I am of the opinion that some of the NSA methods could have been questioned because the data users might not have an understanding of what methods used and how they are being applied. I am planning to engage various stakeholders from different sectors especially those with such concerns and explain to them on how methods are being applied to clear confusions and avoid misinterpretation of data during planning and decision making. In addition, most of our data have metadata, I therefore encourage our data users to familiarise themselves with such or approach our offices for more information going forward. NSA is ready to tap knowledge from our local experts in various fields hence they are equally welcome to consult my office so that we can improve our data production for better development planning.
MN: Has the economic turmoil affected the NSA’s production of national statistics?
OM: Ooh Yes! The production of statistics has been affected since last year because it has not been possible to undertake all statistical data collection projects as planned in our five year strategic plan covering 2017/2018 to 2021/2022. It is also worth highlighting at this stage that the agency is busy planning for the upcoming 2021 Population and Housing Census (PHC) and the undertaking of the pre-enumeration activities such as the census mapping is being affected because there is no allocated budget since the last financial year. I feel that such delay might affect the main census enumeration in 2021 if preparatory activities are not carried out as expected therefore hoping for the very best since it is only the census that provides baseline information for planning and decision making at the lowest level.
MN: How do we rank globally when it comes to production of data?
OM: Globally, NSA has been doing well because we have been collecting the most required statistical data that are linked to spatial data to enhance planning including the undertaking of the censuses every 10 years since independence that is in line with the UN recommendations. We managed to move from paper data collection to digital data capturing using modern technologies (such as Tablets) that improves data quality. Few countries in Africa have been learning from us through study tours and workshops. Furthermore, we have been invited to participate and share our experiences on data production at various international expert group meetings that are tasked to develop best practices of using modern technologies during data production that have been recommended to be adopted by countries across the globe. Similarly, we also received positive feedback on our data by international development partners and agencies who use them to plan and compare Namibia to the rest of the world.
MN: What was it that first introduced you to statistics as a discipline and what was it that led you to pursue statistics as a career?
OM: I was aware of mathematics since primary/high school but not really exposed to statistics per say until my university years. During my undergraduate studies, I majored in Mathematics and Physics but also took modules on statistics because one cannot study mathematics without taking statistics since the two are directly linked. Being a math major it was easy to apply mathematics to statistics and to learn the techniques for collecting statistical data on the job when I joined the Central Bureau of Statistics (CSO) in 1992. Since I was computer literate especially handling of spread sheet so it was easy to be recruited as a statistician by CSO then when they were looking for suitable candidates with a university degree in statistics or mathematics with computer science and that is how I started with statistics as a career.
MN: What do you feel were your main achievements?
OM: There have many achievements over the years but the following are considered to be some of the main highlights since they contribute to national building: the establishment of a Geographical Information System (GIS) during 2001 census and the introduction of paperless census mapping for the 2011 to improve spatial data collection and generation of digital maps for the census enumeration and subsequent national surveys and censuses. The establishment of a Bachelor of Geo-Information Technology (BGIT) at NUST to build GIS capacity at the Central Bureau of Statistics and the general public; the inclusion of spatial component in the Statistics Act, No.9 of 2011 and the development of National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) policy. The impact of such developments has earned the Namibia Statistics office an international recognition on the use of modern technologies for the 2010 round of censuses. Other achievements worth mentioned are such as: the establishment of the 14 Regional Statistical Offices to create statistical awareness and enhance regional development planning; contribution to the introduction of advance data collection by using modern technologies (Tablets) instead of paper questionnaires to improve data quality and provision of technical guidance and support across National Statistical System (NSS) to ensure harmonisation of survey methods during statistical data production to ensure data quality. As a result, NSA has been approached by many national and international institutions to conduct surveys for them and to collaborate during data production.
MN: What advice do you have for little girls on the importance of getting an education?
OM: I urge the young girls to take education seriously at early age since it is a gateway to a better life in future. Education opens up doors for personal independence and personal growth to become anything their hearts desires when they grow up. With education one will understand how to use available information to advance innovation and creativity in contribution to national building. I therefore encourage all the girls to complete their primary and secondary up to tertiary level, know what they want, be self-confident, stay focused and dream big because all dreams are achievable if they work towards them!
MN: Just what do you do for a little fun?
OM: Spending quality time with my family, walking & jogging, reading spiritual and motivational books, listening to motivational talks, traveling, watching a good movie, and socialisation with family and friends.
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