Census data should inform policies, not tribal politics

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020 00:00 |

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Sandra Ochola

Politics of ethnic numbers is one of the informal obsessions that we Kenyans reverently get into especially when political stakes are high. 

The recently released Kenya Population and Housing Census data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) has again stirred the usual undertones about the perennial issue of tribe and politics.

We have heard murmurs of discontent about numbers not representing the “actual” population of certain tribes.

Besides the political chit-chat about ethnic numbers, KNBS has captured some of the most pertinent human development issues that we need to consciously think about.

However, many Kenyans are blinded by the parochial politics of tribe and numbers, neglecting critical development needs which deserve attention. 

Lest we forget, a paltry 10 per cent of Kenyans have access to piped water while 41 per cent live in mud and cow dung-walled houses in rural areas.

Some 92 per cent of Kenyans in rural areas still rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking fuel while only 9.7 per cent have access to sewer.

Another 72 per cent burn and bury their domestic solid waste. Some of these human development indices in the KNBS data show there is a lot of work to be done to improve the living standards for citizens. 

But are we introspecting on why we have the conspicuously low living standards especially in rural areas?

Last November, the Energy ministry in conjunction with Clean Cooking Association of Kenya released a report that revealed that solid wood fuel is a silent death trap in many households.

Approximately 21,500 Kenyans lose lives annually to indoor air pollution arising from use of solid wood and charcoal fuel.

These are some of the pertinent issues that should invoke candid debate about what needs to be done to improve the living standards using the census data.

Regrettably, some Kenyans, including politicians, have cherry-picked the census data for skewed parochial political agenda-setting rather than making in-depth inquiries into what the statistics imply on our socio-economic development agenda.

As a matter of fact, the census data validates the Big Four agenda and why it is imperative the blueprint is fully touted to improve living standards. 

The Big Four pillars—affordable housing, food security, manufacturing and universal healthcare—fit well with the urgent socio-economic development priorities that Kenya needs to pursue to improve the quality of life for citizens.  

We have recently seen and heard superfluous narratives about the census data on how the so-called “dominant tribes” still have a controlling stake on national politics by virtue of “tyranny of numbers”.

Unofficially, proponents of such debates assume that some of Kenya’s minority tribes cannot produce national leaders just because they do not have controlling majorities to significantly influence national elections. 

But let us defer the politics of numbers for a minute and ask the candid questions.

While majority of Kenyans fall under the age of 35 years, what do we need to do to create more jobs to absorb the youthful population into the labour force?

When are we going to achieve the globally recommended forest cover of 10 per cent and until when will the 92 per cent of rural communities still rely on solid wood and charcoal for cooking fuel?

What of our perennial cycles of drought and hunger? What does the country need to do to ensure food security for the growing population? 

The census data should not be truncated to mere “ethnic numbers” for elective politics.

We need to use it to construct appropriate national discourse around issues of socio-economic development and not the tribal numbers calculus and political balkanisation which will never inspire socio-economic development.  —The writer is an Advocate of the High Court

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