We are in census season again! Anyone visiting the country at this time might be forgiven for thinking that we are preparing for war or some similar catastrophe.
We have passed legislation to punish people for giving ‘false’ answers to enumerators, and the government has ordered the closure of entertainment spots over the weekend in order to facilitate an easier census process.
The only measure of magnitude in this country is the degree of disruption an event causes in the lives of the common citizens, and by this measure, the census is among the most important things in our time.
To cap it all, politicians have joined the fray, presenting the census the same way they present general elections- as a do-or-die affair. Many are exhorting their tribesmates to travel to their villages of origin and get counted there, forgetting that one of the reasons censuses are carried out is to plan for facilities in the places where people actually live. Biblical justifications have been trotted out, drawing parallels with a similar event associated with the birth of Jesus Christ. Heeding our idiotic politicians’ calls for a census migration will only serve to provide misleading information about population density, confusing planners and misdirecting resources.
More ominously, the politicians have hijacked the census and have threatened us that if we are not counted in our rural constituencies we may come back and find that those constituencies have ceased to exist. The consequences of this purported ‘disappearance’ of political units are presented as being very dire, as though the entire population in the area will be wiped out.
This (mis) information is meant to create extreme anxiety and drive urban-dwelling Kenyans to their villages for purposes of shoring up ethnopolitical numbers.
After being counted in the villages, these Kenyans will then troop back to the urban areas where they live and work, and continue complaining about the unplanned settlements, overwhelmed water and sewerage systems, inadequate road infrastructure, and so on and so forth.
The only beneficiaries in this entire fearmongering exercise are politicians, especially the warmongering ones in the more ‘rural’ and largely ethnically homogenous political units. They will wait for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to initiate the boundaries review exercise and then use their artificially boosted numbers to argue for more constituencies and more money from the exchequer.
In the meantime, those responsible for the inflation will have to make-do with fewer and crowded urban political units with lower budgets that cannot adequately meet their needs. This is the stupidity we need to end.
Instead of prescribing punishments for ‘crimes’ like ‘refusing to answer census questions’, the government would do better to advise the citizens that a census is not meant solely as a political planning tool.
A census is a useful activity for planning infrastructure and for forecasting demand for services like education, health, and security. It therefore makes more sense to be enumerated where you spend most days of the year, rather than migrating to a rural ‘home’ where you spend perhaps all of four weeks a year!
Atwoli is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and former Dean, Moi University School of Medicine; [email protected]