Planning: Census must capture true demographic picture

Wednesday, August 7th, 2019 00:00 |
Census. Photo/Courtesy

Sabina Akoth

Conducting a national census is time consuming and economically costly. It is no wonder, that as populations grow, more countries are adopting technology as a means of cutting costs, enhancing efficiency and securing information. 

The US for example, intends to hold its first online census in 2020. Citizens will be asked to fill the census questionnaire online, to enable a faster and more effective collection, collation, storage, analysis and dissemination of census data. 

Pundits are already making their views known on the opportunities and challenges for this new-age approach. On one hand, it will cut down operational and human resource costs by millions of dollars.

It also offers an opportunity for America to embrace the technological advances that could enhance its present and future administrative undertakings. 

On the other hand, there are fears that this could open the bureau up to risks tied to connectivity issues, negative digital campaigns and cyber security threats. 

The same concerns can be expressed about the forthcoming 2019 national census in Kenya. With only weeks to go, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) is engaged in stakeholder meetings in a bid to sensitise the public on this month’s exercise. 

Its officials are particularly excited about the technological inclusions such as cartographic mapping and digital enumeration.

While this exercise will cost almost Sh10 billion more than in 2009, KNBS has since engaged young people from two local universities to develop the technology and has employed even more as supervisors and enumerators.

It is predicted, that these huge investments will deliver timely and accurate results that will give Kenyans a true picture of their demographic standing. 

A national census in Kenya is, however, much more than numbers and tales. It determines the nature and extent of the distribution of resources and the allocation of power at both the national and community levels.

Its darker undertones speak to the status of our social and political health. For example, being the first census under the 2010 Constitution, the 2019 exercise is likely to inform the future delimitation of boundaries.

This could naturally, be fodder for more boundary related conflicts especially now with the looming referendum and 2022 elections. 

At the county and community levels, it could determine which clans or ethnic group(s) dominate the socio-political landscapes in particular regions.

Already,  some communities have made statements to the effect that they have reproduced enough to tilt the census scales from 2009. Others are also certain that the census will confirm their numerical biases in line with the next election.

It is also of concern that the key legal frameworks that underpin the bureau and its activities are yet to be aligned to the Constitution. 

It is based on these assumptions and expectations that majority of Kenyans will be engaging in the 2019 survey. It, therefore, behoves KNBS to prepare adequately for all eventualities. 

For starters, the integration of technology should ensure that the final data is available for public consumption as and when they need it.

Limited access to such information has in the past enabled negative campaigns against the exercise and with damaging effects to our cohesion.

There must also be buy-in from varied stakeholders whose cynicism should be addressed through transparency and communication during the process. 

It is also assumed that the bureau has put in place mitigation measures for some of the security and logistical challenges it faced in 2009. In particular, measures to reach the pastoralist communities should be in place and with the requisite resources matched to their needs. 

Experiences from the recent Huduma Namba registration should have given the KNBS a glimpse into the technological challenges that it is likely to face. It is presumed  that the institution has cushioned itself from the basic functionality issues that threatened the Huduma process.  

All in all, credit must be given where it is due and the strides made by the bureau so far, are a show of progressive thinking and commitment to more efficient census processes. The institution will need the support of both the citizens and leaders for its to deliver. The writer comments on development issues

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