Unto whom much is given, much is expected. This aptly applies to Dr Fred Matiang’i, a man on whose shoulders many responsibilities have been placed. It is no surprise that all eyes are on him during the census, an activity that takes place once every decade to ascertain how many Kenyans exist. This one, however, could possibly be the most controversial coming at a time when the mood is rife with referendum and 2022 succession talks and a citizentry weary of any government efforts to harvest personal data. That’s besides the stringent last minute measures that were put in place by the ‘Super CS’ in an effort to capture every single Kenyan in the count. A nationwide lockdown of bars and clubs aggrieved many revelers who complained of having lost on a weekend to unwind while most are yet to have a moment with enumerators doing rounds in every household.
This rushed move was symptomatic of poor planning by the government which would have been solved had there been extensive and prolonged civic engagement and sensitization. Had the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Planning used the communication arsenal employed during the Huduma Namba registration to educate the public on the census process, then perhaps the hostility that enumerators have been met with in some areas would not have been reported. While Dr Matiang’i was stamping his authority with the closure of bars he failed to factor in the complexities that come with conducting such an exercise during late hours. Not only did this move expose Kenyan homes to risks such as robbery but this put the enumerators in harm’s way. In an all too familiar move by the government, the ministry has just changed the working hours to 6am to 10 pm a little too late after this past weekend’s tainted exercise that saw an enumerator gang-raped.
Security matters aside, it is becoming evident that the training of enumerators wasn’t consistent across the board with several Kenyans reporting inconsistencies in the exercise. Some easily breezed through some questions that were considered mandatory while others approached some sensitive questions such as gender, based on their assumptions of one’s physical appearance. It not only waters down the landmark recognition of intersex persons but it means that the final data compiled might be inaccurate as not all intersex persons will be mapped out.
Kenyans who’ve participated in previous censuses noted with a lot of caution that the ID requirement was new in the census raising concerns over this being a mass data collection exercise. Despite government spokesman Cyrus Oguna assuring Kenyans that the ID number will be done away with to achieve anonymity, Kenyans have every right to exercise caution since threats have preceded transparency in government processes in recent times. It is noteworthy that the question of one’s ID number doesn’t rank high up as crucial information in as far as planning is concerned. There were no questions on one’s proximity to a medical centre, a school, a tarmacked road, market centre, bus stop, chief and police station/post. Which means that without a proper heat map on the gaps in different regions, development equality will remain elusive.
Not to say that the Kenya Bureau of Statistics’ efforts will all go to waste. The question on one’s migration to another county will be a good issue for leaders to ruminate on. Reason being that most people move because they seek good education and jobs that may not be accessible in their counties of origin, meaning that leaders will have to put in extra effort to achieve and accelerate development in all fronts.
There’s a lot of insight to gain from this census but it’ll only prove to be useful if politicians choose to look at the bigger picture rather than the myopic route that only considers “numbers” to advance their political interests.