Nation set for population count amid fears of vested interests

Friday, August 23rd, 2019 00:00 |
Enumerators contracted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics to conduct the census being trained at Kangemi in Nairobi, yesterday. The census kicks off tomorrow night. Photo/PD/Samuel Kariuki

The national population census kicks off tomorrow night amid vested political interests, some of which are pegged on the 2022 elections, and which observers fear could distort an otherwise noble exercise aimed at generating vital statistics for the government.    

While the population and housing census is primarily aimed at documenting numbers and other crucial information to aid in economic planning, political players see it as an opportunity to register favourable numbers for political expediency.

So far the exercise has attracted keen interest from various political players, including Amani National Congress (ANC) and Ford-Kenya leaders Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula respectively, who, in a rare show of unity, shared a platform to issue a joint statement on Wednesday, calling on Kenyans – mainly from their political base in western Kenya – to participate in the crucial count.

“The IEBC (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) will soon after this exercise use the census figures to draw up boundaries for wards and constituencies. This is why we are appealing to you wherever you are, be it in Vanga, Lokichoggio, Liboi, Nairobi or Kisumu, this is the time to come home and be counted,” said Wetang’ula, the Senator for Bungoma.

Comfortable figures

Similar calls have been made by political leaders from Central Kenya, among them, embattled Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu, through a press release on Wednesday titled “Rudi Nyumbani Uhesabiwe”, and Gatundu South MP, Moses Kuria.

Citing Luke 2:1 in the Bible, the Gatundu MP calls on the people of Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua, Laikipia, Embu, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Nakuru and Kajiado counties to “follow the footsteps of the Sacred Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus Christ” by returning home for the census.

And separately, threatened by the possibility of their constituencies being scrapped in the next IEBC boundaries delimitation for failing to hit the threshold of 133,000 residents, political leaders from some of the 27 affected constituencies are lobbying to have their constituents travel home for tomorrow’s exercise.

“My people are largely fishermen and reside in a number of islands within Lake Victoria, some of which are on the Ugandan side. However, we have lobbied hard and created awareness among our people living within islands in the lake and across the country and come Saturday I am sure we shall register very comfortable figures,” Raphael Wanjala, the MP for Budalang’i, told   People Daily.         

With politicians increasingly taking a keen interest in the census, the government yesterday issued a stern warning to those playing politics with the exercise being conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). 

“This is a straight forward exercise and let it remain that way. Asking people to move from this part of the country to the other is a primitive habit and should be stopped because it is affecting the way people live,” Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i warned.

Saying the government was watching the culprits, Matiang’i revealed that intelligence officers were aware of a particular meeting that took place on Wednesday night to finalise logistics to transport people to their rural areas for the census: “We are following up on this and at an appropriate time these people will face the law,” he said. 

Boardroom negotiations

The warning notwithstanding, political stakes are high and political analyst Prof Macharia Munene believes “real politicians will not be deterred”. The census numbers, argues Prof Munene, will be used to shape politics both at the local and national level.

Appreciating the importance of numbers in boardroom negotiations, especially during coalition building and identification of presidential flag bearers, Prof Munene observes that political dynamics can change overnight, depending on the census outcome.  “Should, for instance, the census show that the population of the Luhya has surpassed that of the Kikuyu and some other perceived small tribe has scaled up in numbers, that reality will be a big political statement. 

Resource allocation

And depending on how well politicians exploit that development, the approach to the 2022 polls could change significantly,” opines Prof Macharia, who teaches History and International Relations at the United States International University-Africa.

This reality partly explains the heightened interest and sensitivity of the government and political players in the census. Claiming, for instance, that census figures were doctored in parts of the country in the 2009 exercise, Mudavadi is calling for “a clean and truthful process” this time round.

“In the last census, figures were clearly exaggerated in some parts of the country. But when President (Mwai) Kibaki ordered a repeat exercise in the interests or getting accurate figures, politicians in those areas not only warned their electorate from participating but warned the security of the enumerators was not guaranteed,” recalls Mudavadi, a Deputy Prime Minister at the time.  

 Mudavadi regrets that failing to undertake the repeat exercise in parts of northern Kenya undermined the process of resource allocations. The ANC leader now wants an accurate exercise, “free from vested political interests”.

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