The intense public debate over the census results underlines the contestation over population numbers. The results are perceived in terms of the benefits they accrue to communities, regions and groups. They are interpreted as a tool for planning and national development, which, indeed, is the purpose.
As predicted, the population has grown significantly in the past decade, by about 10 million, to 47.6 million. However, there are marked regional disparities that would be attributed to geographies, histories and economics.
Nairobi, the capital city, for example, recorded the highest population, 4.4 million, which can be explained by virtue of its position as the seat of government and the regional business hub.
Conversely, regions such as Lamu and Isiolo are sparsely populated due to a harsh physical terrain and years of neglect that make them inhospitable. Which is why the Constitution, while it is centred on resource dispersal, also provides for the Equalisation Fund to remedy such discrepancies.
However, the point of discussion here is the disputes arising out of the census. Many politicians have taken exception to the fact the results do not reflect what they think obtains on the ground; that the numbers of their communities seem to have been shrunk. Surprisingly, they have threatened legal action.
Politicians view population in terms of votes and resource allocation. They thrive on ethnic and regional mobilisation for top political positions and fight to ensure they have the numbers to win seats or bargain with others. This is why some politicians have threatened to go to court to compel the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics to conduct fresh counting in their regions.
But they are barking up the wrong tree. The critical issue is how to make use of the census data. The country cannot continue with the obsession with ethnic demographics. In line with devolution, allocation to counties is based on population figures. Additional cash is given to counties based on poverty levels as part of affirmative action to achieve equity.
Besides, the National Treasury shares the Constituency Development Fund on the basis of population. Delineation of electoral boundaries is also determined by population and geographies.
What KNBS has to do is assure the public that the figures it released on Monday are correct and a true reflection of population patterns; that they have not been adulterated or exaggerated as that has profound implications.
It is recalled that there were concerns during the census that the counting took too long, some people were not counted and certain enumerators were too casual.
Census results should not create so much acrimony.