National exercise: Census data crucial to economic planning

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019 00:00 |
National Census. Photo/Courtesy

As a critical national exercise, the ongoing census should provide imperative data needed to formulate strong economic policies. Essentially, information gathered and documented from this exercise should enable  the government to come up with economic frameworks that outlast the typical five-year election cycle. 

Evidence-based decision-making is a globally recognised approach in the management of a country’s resources. It is also a measuring stick on the progress of set economic targets, population growth and impact on the economy as well as political and social-cultural changes that have eventually shaped the trends of different demographics economy-wise.

Whilst this is the sixth national census since independence, it is the first since the introduction of the devolved system of governance.

Hence, in addition to providing key information on the above, it  will be pivotal in examining the extent to which fiscal and public policies are either catalysing or impeding growth at the county level.

To chart an economically sustainable path forward for the next 10 years, insights from census data analysis should be at the centre of national discussions  and more so, those between government and industry.

Together, we will need to review our policy development in light of the resulting information. For example, we have been talking about a demographic dividend that the country can take advantage of to boost its economy; but what is the status of this demographic?

What is their level of education? What are their skills? Where are they? Can they access and afford basic necessities? 

In addition, other crucial factors that will surface are, for instance, the understanding and use of technology by different demographics, the rate of its adoption in businesses and access to basic technology for everyday use.

The data will also highlight factors around employment; what is the current status on the rate of unemployment? Where are the jobs? Are they stable?

If these numbers are to be considered in policy-development specifically with regard to economic sustainability, it could mean reviewing the current state of industry dispersion in the country and how it can be improved in the counties, to increase the number of households that have stable incomes. 

Statistics will also assist policy-makers to identify gaps in the value chain that have the potential to boost country’s competitiveness and grow our export markets. 

Let’s say we analyse data from communities that grow and sell fruits and whether these activities provide consistent source of income vis-à-vis investors in the country specialising in fruit processing and value-addition. 

We would then develop policy inroads, to encourage new factories to be set up near  these communities, thereby creating strong linkages. Economic activities such as these have a multiplier effect on society.

They are likely to spur the growth of other sectors. Transfer and acquisition of new skills and technology will also take place as the demand of new jobs increase. 

Census data will also shed light on existing businesses, especially Small and Medium Enterprises. It will drive a conversation on the definition and classification of these businesses, their capacity to formalise, be productive and profitable.

This would create an opportunity to interrogate current approaches towards SMEs and subsequently, inform either a need to revise or bolster them with the future in mind. 

The census is an opportunity for the country to pause, take stock and chart a way forward for the next 10 years. It is an opportunity for us to drive issue-based national dialogue on development, decentralise habitual politicking and focus on socio-economic prosperity.

— The writer is the Kenya Association of Manufacturers chief executive officer. [email protected].

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