Wednesday, September 9, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
September 9, 2009

What exactly went wrong with the Kenyan census of 2009? Was it the math that wasn’t right or was it the process that wasn’t making sense? How come Kenyans earned a free holiday when there were no enumerators in sight in most of the neighborhoods in the first 72 hours? Where is the proof that every Kenyan including those in Migingo Island was counted? Was this a census for Kenya citizens or was it inclusive of foreigners living within our borders? If the latter was the case, how come Uganda soldiers living in Migingo Island claimed to have not been counted?

Where I live, just next to the President’s and the Anglican Bishop’s residences, I was able to see on my TV screen the President being counted in the full glare of TV cameras. The Bishop had to wait a little longer as probably the same enumerators were still delayed at State House. Again the TV cameras made us aware of the Bishop‘s anxiety as he waited with a TV reporter sitting idly in his living room.

For us who share the street with the two VIPs, we had to wait a little longer-7 days before we could get that important knock on our doors. When one finally arrived, I asked him where he had been. His reply was simple. He was alone in my area!

At that time, I, like many frustrated Kenyans, had made up my mind that I would not report to any chief for my census after having been kept waiting for a week very close to the city center in Nairobi.

If my house in Milimani was inaccessible for seven days, I wonder how those living in Mathare North, Umoja Inner core, Mukurueini, Kibera slums and Dandora areas of Nairobi were accessed.

More importantly, did we count the illegal residents of Mau Forest that we have been threatening with evictions for the better part of this year? Would they have allowed enumerators to enter the forest without suspicion of being advance parties gone to assess their numbers before their evictions?

No wonder few Kenyans bothered to report to the chiefs’ camps when asked to do so that weekend. I suspect the boycott had more to do with protests at their being kept waiting for days rather than lack of patriotism. They were as livid as I was before I was counted!

Nevertheless, I have of late been thinking about this census thing. I have been wondering aloud that suppose we wanted to count 40 million Kenyans in the first 12 hours, wouldn’t it have been easier to ask all Kenyans to report to polling stations in their constituencies with all their families and cue up and be counted ?

I know the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics wanted to capture other data for planning , however, which one was more important; the headcount in the country or the secondary data? Wouldn’t it have been better to separate the headcount from other data gathering questionnaire? In my opinion, other data could have been contracted out to other private research companies and could have been allowed to last at least 8 weeks and carried out province by province since households are always there in the respective provinces.

The other thing that bothered me was the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics asserting that they were out to count 12 million households. This was interesting because either our current population is 36, 48, 60, or 72 million. The reason I’m saying this is because based on the attitude to the number of children among our rural population and urban slums, it will be difficult to have families with an average of three to four members. They always range between six and seven and at times eight when you consider three children in a family, two parents and a possible live-in relative.

Numbers aside, I always wonder why we always find it difficult to add numbers where human counting is concerned. Compared to China, India or the United States, ours is not such an overwhelming population yet, when we have general elections, we take days to count just 10 million votes. Now we have taken eight days to conduct our census and will never know how many we are until December 2009 if we are lucky.

Is there no simpler way of counting our people? Why don’t we open census offices in every sub-location at the sub-chief’s center where data on births and deaths are recorded on a monthly basis and such data are channeled through to the National Bureau of Statistics? In my opinion, real devolution of services to the people should not just see chiefs and police stations sprouting up in our slums and villages but also crucial departments such as KENABS, registrar of persons and immigration departments so that we can capture the number of households, school going children, university students, farmers, teachers, doctors, canoes, bicycles, domestic animals, deaths, births, teenagers turning 18, widows, widowers, aids patients, malaria deaths, professionals, wealthy and poor families on a continuous basis.

And we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Let us learn from the masters like India that can count 400 million votes in 18 hours or the Americans that can count 150 million votes across 50 states in 12 hours. Let us find out how Americans, Canadians and other developed countries can capture the data on an individual from birth to age 18 to enable them give an automatic ID card on one’s 18th birthday without making the mistake of issuing such a document to a dead person. It is because reporting birth or death has been made mandatory by law but it is also electronic.

If we cling to pencil and paper, and continue to hire inexperienced jobless youths as enumerators in 2009 the way we did last century in 1969, 1979, 1989 and 1999, we will always have these kinds of situations with possible huge errors in our data.

Finally, I must commend the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics for trying really hard to sensitize Kenyans before the process kicked off. The fact that they involved the President to launch it, the fact that they made the First Family, Prime Minister, Vice President and other cabinet ministers counted first in front of cameras was an effective way of passing the message to the rest of Kenyans. More importantly, the many TV, radio and newspaper interviews that were given by Director Kilele and his chief officers prior to the exercise were informative and effective. Kenyans loved the debate generated by the questionnaire of tribe.

However, how many Kenyans were able to get this message on our print and electronic media? What percentage of Kenyan households has access to a newspaper, a radio and televisions? And even for those who had access to these media, was the language suitable and appropriate? How many rural and urban slum dwellers got the message that the census was important in their lives other than being a government exercise?

One only hopes that this last gap was filled competently by the provincial administration, councilors, elders and the civil society organizations at the grassroots level.