National datasets on livelihoods in the DRC: Precisely wrong or vaguely right?

Sarah K. Thontwa, Tom De Herdt, Wim Marivoet and John Ulimwengu
IOB Working Paper 2017.12

How have people’s livelihoods evolved recently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)? Many observers are not too shy to come up with an answer to this question. All these voices ultimately refer to official data sources on people’s livelihoods in the DRC. In this paper we focus more in particular on survey data on the DRC. This paper reviews the available data from 8 national surveys implemented between 1995 and 2015, what caveats exist when analyzing them, and what livelihoods profiles have emerged in the literature so far.

The main claim we make in this review is that survey data cannot be taken at face value. The correct interpretation of survey data depends partly on the quality of the survey itself, partly on the quality and accessibility of related background material (like manuals, questionnaires, sampling designs, price data, etc.) and partly on the public availability and use of the data by the research community. While we propose some technical ways to cope with some obvious weaknesses of the existing datasets, an improvement of our knowledge about evolving livelihoods in the DRC ultimately also requires a further analysis of the political economy of data management.

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