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Is SA #1 in the world for death, Kenya for tea & Nigeria for scrabble players?

A map supposedly showing what each country in the world ranks tops for has made headlines. We inspected the claims about South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.

Researched by Africa Check

UPDATE: After Africa Check published this report, Information is Beautiful changed its label for South Africa from "death" to "platinum".

“Every country is best at something”, according to data visualisation website Information is Beautiful. A map published on the website shows what countries around the world rank first for.

“According to the data” South Africa is ranked best for “death” – news which made headlines in the UK Daily Mail. Nigeria is first for “scrabble players”. And Kenya is tops for “black tea”.

The website provides a spreadsheet with a list of sources for the rankings, which Africa Check consulted. Does the data back the claims?

Claim

South Africa is “best or number one for” death rates

Verdict

incorrect

South Africa is “best or number one for” death rates, according to a spreadsheet Information is Beautiful posted below the map.

The death rate refers to the number of deaths per 1,000 people in a country. This ratio allows for comparisons to be made between countries with varying population sizes.

But the source it links to – the CIA World Factbook – does not show this. According to it, Lesotho is ranked number one for death rates with a rate of 14.9 deaths per 1,000 people in 2016 (although it notes that it is an estimate). South Africa isn’t even a runner-up. It comes in at 51st place with a death rate of 9.6 per 1,000.

Other data sources confirm that South Africa doesn’t bag the top spot.

The World Health Organisation estimated that Sierra Leone had the highest death rate in 2013. South Africa was ranked 30th. Bulgaria topped the World Bank’s death rate estimates in 2014 when South Africa ranked 18th. – Kate Wilkinson

Claim

Kenya is “best or number one for” the production of black tea

Verdict

incorrect

Workers at a tea farm in western Kenya carry their baskets past a tea field set alight during ethnic clashes in February 2008. Photo: AFP/Yasuyoshi Chiba

Workers at a tea farm in western Kenya carry their baskets past a tea field set alight during ethnic clashes in February 2008. Photo: AFP/Yasuyoshi Chiba

While wildlife, Maasai people, its long distance athletes and more recently, technological adaptability more readily come to mind when many people imagine Kenya, the numbers would favour tea.

The Information is Beautiful map used production as its criteria for ranking Kenya “tops” for black tea, which is the more widely-traded variety. It dated the claim as being from 2015 and cited Paper&Tea, which brands itself as a specialist tea company founded in Berlin, as its source.

The tea company says on its website: “In fact, Kenya is the world’s biggest producer of black tea, and in this category even ahead of India and China!” (Note: After we published this report, P&T said it would correct its page as the claim is incorrect. They have not yet done so, however.)

The most recent data available from the Food and Agriculture Organization shows that China and India both grew more black tea than Kenya did in 2013. But Kenya exports nearly all its leaf (95%), making the East African nation the world’s “best” shipper of tea, according to the FAO.

Tea is a big deal for Kenya. It is Kenya’s largest domestic earner of foreign exchange and is only second to diaspora remittances in its contribution to the country’s gross national product.

The crop earned Kenya US$1.2 billion in 2015, according to Kenya’s Economic Survey 2016. Remittances from the diaspora in the same year as documented by the Central Bank of Kenya were at US$1.54 billion, while its more globally-recognised tourism brought in $830 million.

And while forecasts show the world will consume even more tea in 2023, few people outside knowledgeable circles would immediately say “tea” when asked what Kenya is “best” at exporting. – Lee Mwiti

Claim

Nigeria is “best or number one for” the number of top 200 Scrabble players

Verdict

incorrect

Nigerian Wellington Jighere holds his English-speaking World Scrabble Championships award in November 2015. Photo: AFP/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

Nigerian Wellington Jighere holds his English-speaking World Scrabble Championships award in November 2015. Photo: AFP/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

Information is Beautiful claims Nigeria is number one in the world for the word game Scrabble.

To be sure, Nigerian Wellington Jighere beat Englishman Lewis MacKay last year at the English-speaking World Scrabble Championships to take the world title. Jighere got a congratulatory call from Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari following his feat in Perth, Australia.

However, Information is Beautiful specifically claimed Nigeria is number one for Scrabble because it has “more top 200 players than anywhere else”.

To support the claim, the data portal linked to a May 2016 article by The Wall Street Journal. Back then, the claim was correct according to the ranking of the World English Language Scrabble Players Association (Wespa). Nigeria had 40 players in the top 200 in April.

However, by the time Information is Beautiful published their map the ranking had shifted. The US had the most top 200 players in September (47) and October (46), compared to 39 for Nigeria in both months.

The latest ratings, updated on 6 December 2016, show that of the current top 200 players, the United States has 35 players, England 30, Australia 17 while Nigeria has 16 players. – David Ajikobi

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