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The 2019 census and the challenges that lie ahead

Saturday August 17 2019

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Kenya's National Housing and Population Census is scheduled for the night of August 24.

There are two interesting things about this census. It is the first time Kenya is enumerating her population since the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010. It is also the first census in which data will be captured using digital gadgets, which will certainly make collating and analysis easier.

Census have been conducted by governments for centuries to enable them get a clear picture of not only the number of people in the country, but also their living conditions and access to so-called resource drain services, such as education, healthcare, water and sanitation systems.

The data generated by a census is useful for planning purposes, policy formulation and generation of a development agenda for any country.

In the Kenyan case, counties will be anxiously awaiting this data as the Constitution suggests allocation of resources in relation to population statistics and demographics.


The Kenya National Bureau of statistics has chosen a methodology in which the census reference night will determine the population at this particular time.

This means one will be enumerated depending on where they spend the night on August 24 before midnight and on August 25 after that hour.

Sociologically, this can present challenges. There is a flawed assumption that at the time of enumeration, the entire population will be in the presence of people who know where they will be spending that night.

This assumption can lead to distortion of the data collected.


There are also other social cultural challenges that a census can face.

Asking women over the age of 12 about the number of live births they have had is another element that is likely to production of distorted data.

Not all households are aware of the births by their members. Some women have left children undeclared to spouses with their parents and there are children who have given up their young ones for adoption without their parents' knowledge.

All children in children’s homes were birthed by women unlikely to declare them for one reason or other.


I do hope the questionnaire has included a third gender or others in the gender question.

There are those in the population that do not consider themselves to be what they look like.

There are also people with gender neutral names and the enumerators cannot assume that just because my name is Muthoni I am female.

No matter what our political, religious or social opinions are, a national census must aim to make the collection of data as accurate and as painless as possible.


Another challenge enumerators will face is that of cultural beliefs.

There are cultures that strongly discourage parents from counting their children as it will bring ill luck on them.

In such instances, data on children who will not be present or visible, say they are asleep in another room may not be represented accurately.

Religious beliefs must also be taken into account so that female officers are not asked to enumerate members of communities that believe women should be in their homes at night. This will make work for enumerators unnecessarily difficult.

There are also communities that believe women should not give personal information to males outside their own families. In instances where males are enumerators, the data may be distorted.


An inadequate or ineffective census education campaign can also lead to flawed data.

There are people who have not heard that there is an upcoming census so accessing data from such Kenyans will be an uphill task.

The request for a public holiday, although flawed in principles, would have worked wonders in spreading the news.

Kenyans love holidays and even if there is no guarantee that they will stay home just to be enumerated, a majority will be curious to know what good fortune they owe a public holiday in August.


The state of infrastructure may also hinder collection of factual data in some regions.

There are places that are just not accessible in this country, except on foot. The process will be exhausting and time consuming for enumerators.

Other communities still move from place to place and may be on the move ahead of the census, especially in cases of inadequate awareness creation.

In Kenya, there is also the belief that the data collected is for political purposes, hence lack commitment by the population to the process. One cannot get data from an unwilling population.

Last but not least, every Kenyan should realise that giving data on tribe is not tribalism, it is a matter to do with demographics.