Controversy: Jitters cloud national population census

Monday, August 26th, 2019 00:00 |
Taita Taveta Governor Granton Samboja - Photo/PD/NDEGWA GATHUNGU

Controversy has erupted over the decision by the government to include national identity card and Huduma Namba details into the census questionnaire.

Yesterday, the government assured Kenyans there was no cause for alarm amid growing concerns from different quarters even as it decreed that the exercise goes on overnight yesterday.

Government Spokesperson Col (rtd) Cyrus Oguna said Kenyans would be asked to give their ID or passport numbers and urged for cooperation, saying it should not cause panic. 

He said personal identity would be removed from the data to achieve anonymity, during data analysis. 

Oguna further clarified that the ID number was to establish those who have it so that for those without, arrangements would be made to issue them with one. 

“There is also the issue of ID number that keeps coming up. ID numbers are requested for purposes of verification and authentication. Let me just give an example within Daadab there are people who registered as refugees and also as Kenyans. This process is also aimed at weeding out people with fake ID cards,” said Oguna.

“So when you are asked for ID or passport numbers you should provide it because it is not aimed at monitoring your activities or anything else. It is aimed at ensuring that those who have IDs are Kenyans and those who do not have and are Kenyans arrangements should be made for them to be able to acquire them. Please cooperate in that area,” he said.

Among the first to protest was Amnesty International, Kenya chapter, which claimed that their introduction was not within the realms of matters contemplated under the Statistics Act.

Amnesty further stated that a simple Yes or No question on whether one has an ID or passport would have been enough to establish how many have these documents.

“Collection of unique identifiers is totally unnecessary for the purpose of a census. The statement seems to conflate the purpose of a census and the role of Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) with registration of persons and the role of Immigration and Registration of persons Department,” AI said in a statement.

Amnesty said it has received complaints from people being threatened or the exercise being stopped when they declined to answer the request for their passport and identity number.

“By our law and international standards, censuses are anonymous exercises. Should you choose not to answer and are threatened with arrest by enumerators, please text your name, mobile number and location of the incident, name of the enumerator and type of threat to us.

Your information will be treated with strict confidence,” Amnesty International’s notice read, and provided a mobile number.

Former Law Society of Kenya (LSK) president Isaac Okero echoed similar sentiments, saying the ID number was not necessary for the exercise as it went against international acceptable norms, where a census is just about statistical data.

By inserting the identity question, Okero said there was the danger of infringing on the right to privacy provisions as provided in Section 31 of the Constitution, hence reluctance by a majority of Kenyans to provide it.

Economist David Ndii has also raised questions over the issue saying census was an enumeration and not identification exercise. 

On its part, the Civil Society Reference Group urged the government not to use the ongoing census as an excuse to abrogate rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens.

Presiding convener, Suba Churchill, said authorities must at all times during the census period respect and protect rights and freedoms even as agencies tasked with undertaking the exercise go about their assignment to avoid trampling on the rights of people.

“While Reference Group appreciates importance of census as a national undertaking, it should be clear…that the Constitution entrenches and protects the rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens and non-citizens living within the country has not been suspended,” said Churchill.

Meanwhile, the government clarified that the census was purely a statistical exercise and that the information provided would only be used for planning and policy-making.

Oguna urged politicians to stop politicising the exercise by KNBS saying migration of people from Nairobi to counties to be enumerated does not make much statistical difference.

Enumeration continues today from 6am to 10.00pm, and runs through to Saturday.

If by August 31 one is still not counted, they are advised to contact the toll free line or the local Chief, who will contact the census team.

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