Unlike past censuses when the interest in the numbers was only to box population into ethnic blocks, which would then be used by politicians as a bargaining tool during alliance formations, the 2019 exercise has assumed renewed interest.
Being the first population census under the 2010 Constitution, this year’s exercise will not just be for alliance-making.
The outcome will be key in determining revenues allocated to counties as well as the emotive boundaries delineation by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
The 2010 Constitution remodelled the governance structure and placed population at the centre of key government decisions.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) will begin the population and housing census next Saturday for seven days until August 31. The key days though are Saturday and Sunday — the Census Reference Nights.
The bureau had hoped the government would declare Monday, August 26, a public holiday as they had requested. This was done on Friday but rescinded hours later.
“As a tradition, we have always had census holidays during the period of the count. It is meant to make the population to be as stable as possible since movements are minimised,” the Bureau’s director-general Zachary Mwangi told Sunday Nation.
With the third generation formula for revenue allocation to counties, whose centrepiece is functional system of allocation, still stuck at the Senate, the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) will continue using the second generation formula until the new basis is approved.
The second generation revenue allocation formula directly places population at the core in determining the revenue share with weight of 45 per cent, which is nearly double the next parameter, equitable share at 25 per cent.
In other words, the higher the population of a county, the likelihood of getting a higher allocation as long as the second generation revenue allocation formula continues to serve as the basis for revenue-sharing.
Similarly, in an exercise that is scheduled to start in 2020, the IEBC will also be heavily relying on the census data when they embark on realigning boundaries of the constituencies and wards.
As such, census has assumed a new interest as focus shifts to county development and recalibration of electoral area boundaries.
“This census will have implications for electoral and administrative boundary review. If all of your population is not captured in the census, it means you lose out,” Mr Mohamed Guleid, who heads the secretariat of the Frontier Counties Development Council (FCDC), said.
The FCDC comprises 10 counties that were previously identified as marginalised: Lamu, Tana River, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Isiolo, Turkana, Samburu and West Pokot.
According to Mr Guleid, given the significance of population to revenue allocation and boundaries review, the KNBS has to remove any doubts from the process and deliver a credible census.
“In the revenue-allocation formula, population plays a very significant role. Certainly, the more people you have the more money you get.
"This, in my view, is where the danger is. I fear there will be a lot of attempts at manipulation because everybody will be going all out to ensure 100 per cent turnout so that at the end of the day their regions can get higher allocation because of population.
"I find this unfortunate because rather than prioritising needs of a people, population determines how much a county gets even if that county is like Nairobi, which has almost all the amenities and infrastructure,” he said.
In an interview with Sunday Nation, Mr Mwangi assured the public of a credible census.
“In this country, we use census for resource allocation by the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA); then there is the IEBC and the issue of boundary delineation.
"These census data are the numbers that they will rely upon. What we aim at is to get an accurate count to help the users make informed decisions. We are therefore going to ensure we carry out credible census that will help users make evidence-based decisions,” the KNBS boss said.
Given the interest the census has generated, politicians from several regions have heightened campaigns to mobilise residents to turn up and participate in the exercise.
Mukurwe-ini MP Anthony Kiai has already started his own-sponsored civic education (themed ‘Simama uhesabiwe; save Mukurwe-ini') to raise awareness on the need to be counted.
In their mobilisation, the politicians have been urging people to travel upcountry for the count so that rural counties register more people and hence higher allocation.
However, KNBS is calling on Kenyans to be counted in their usual places of residence.
This is because, Mr Mwangi said, such movements will disadvantage urban areas when it eventually comes to resource allocation.
“It means that if people were to migrate to their rural areas, then the urban counties would suffer when it comes to planning and resource distribution.
"We are currently engaging the public through our publicity campaigns to have them be counted where they normally reside,” said Mr Mwangi.
Other than the issues of resource allocation and boundaries review, this year’s census will also be significant as it will be the first time in the country’s 56 years of independence that the intersex people too will be counted.