You can count on political, ethnic disputes in every enumeration

Friday, August 23rd, 2019 00:00 |
National Census. Photo/Courtesy

This weekend’s census is the fifth since independence. The first was held in 1969 and every 10 years thereafter.

While the first and second census were largely smooth, since 1989, the census has been characterised by controversies.

From payment-related protests to negative cultural beliefs and ethnic and political undertones, the decennial exercise has never been short of intrigues.

In the 1989, some members of the Pokot community opposed the census on grounds that their traditions do not allow the counting of one’s family members. Then powerful politician Francis Lotodo threatened to have enumerators flushed out of the area.

West Pokot District — now county — registered some of the fewest physically counted numbers in that census.

Soon after the same census, then Agriculture minister Elijah Mwangale claimed the estimates had established that his Luhya community, which was then ranked the third most populous after the Kikuyu and the Luo, had jumped to the second position.

Mwangale later told some journalists from his community  that his Planning counterpart Zachary Onyonka, had “whispered” to him that the Luhya were actually the most populous community in Kenya but due to “certain complications” that could not be made public.

The 2009 census elicited another controversy when it emerged that the Somali community had become the fifth largest ethnic group after the Kikuyu, Luhyia, Luo and Kalenjin, thus jumping over the Kamba, Kisii, Meru and the Maasai.

Reasons for the dramatic rise were varied with some claiming refugees from neighbouring Somalia living in camps in that part of the country had infiltrated the process while another attributed it to polygamy among the Cushitic community.

A repeat census was ordered but it never took off after leaders from the region threatened not to co-operate. The stalemate remains.

This year, politics has taken centre-stage. Last month, Leader of Majority in the National Assembly Aden Duale warned of severe consequences if figures were cooked up to marginalise pastoralist communities.

On Wednesday, ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi and Bungoma senator Moses Wetang’ula urged the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics to ensure the results are credible.

In a joint press conference, they said the figures should not be interfered with claiming that alleged doctoring of population numbers has been undermining equity in representation and distribution of revenue.

History and International Relations lecturer Macharia Munene says most Kenyans are now aware of the importance of the exercise.

“Becaause the figures are used to decide the distribution of State resources and drawing of electoral boundaries, the matter has been politicised,” Munene, who teaches at USIU-Africa, told People Daily.

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