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Columnists

Conduct credible census devoid of errors

A census is not an opinion poll that allows a
A census is not an opinion poll that allows a margin of error. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

I am surprised that the 2019 National Census that will be held next week is not generating much public debate despite the fact that it is going to cost us billions of shillings.

I think the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) has not done a good job of explaining the merits of this massive exercise, especially when you consider the fact that the public only recently went through a similar State snooping and monitoring exercise through the process dubbed Huduma Namba.

The purpose and importance of a national census cannot be gainsaid. Indeed, a national census is what tells you the number of people who live in the country, allowing you to grasp complex demographics such as age, sex, marital status, religion and fertility levels. In the context of devolution, a national census is what best enables evidence-based sharing of revenues between counties.

But we must agree that in the technological age will live in today, the information we will be collecting through the 2019 census is stuff we already have via the numerous other, more regularly updated databases, from electoral registers, Huduma Namba, birth registers, mobile telephone company databases and customer databases of utility companies –especially power and water companies.

There are so many other sources of demographic information these days.

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We need to debate the merits of adjusting the scope of the exercise in line with realities in the rapid changes taking place in the world of information and communications and technology.

Indeed, communications and technology promise to completely revolutionise African statistics.

With the continent having embraced mobile telephones with gusto, we will soon be seeing people becoming regular respondents in more regular censuses and surveys.

Today, satellite imagery can be used to literally see and gauge, from outer space, economic activity in ports, highways and markets.

This is going to be a massive logistical exercise. As part of preparations, a cartographic mapping of the whole country had to be done to determine enumeration areas.

That process came up with 129,123 enumeration areas, each having an average of 100 households.

In terms of personnel, 2,400 ICT supervisors, 22,268 content supervisors and 138,527 enumerators will be hired. It will be a paperless process, with data being captured using computer tablets.

In all likelihood, the census number will show just how much we are engaged in over breeding and how much we should worry about the approaching demographic time bomb.

In my view, population growth per se is not our greatest threat. What I see as a more worrisome trend is the pace and direction of rural urban migration. Our people are moving into towns in droves –in the process- exerting enormous pressure on our towns.

Slums and other forms of informal settlements are growing at a faster rate that formal settlements.

Our capital city, Nairobi, does not have a formal commuter transport system. Instead, what is growing faster is the disorganised matatu sector. The city is unable to cope with the burgeoning number of hawkers. The city authority has not built a single market in two decades.

We used to have an urbanisation policy that promoted growth and development of secondary, the justification being that these smaller towns would soak up some of the pressures from the larger towns.

The thinking at the time was that by providing modern infrastructure like roads, markets, housing in middle level towns such as Thika, Malindi, Kitale or Homa Bay- the migration pressures on Nairobi and other cities would eventually ease.

This has not happened. Today, a good number of the so called secondary towns face the same problem of informalisation: sprawling mud slums, boda bodas, and sprawling unplanned concrete jungles. Thika, which was constructed in the Mzee Jomo Kenyatta era as a satellite industrial town for Nairobi, has two twin slums aptly christened as Kiandutu and Madharau.

Which brings me back to the census. Last time, the census had a major problem with the numbers of the Somali population, which forced census authorities to cancel results in parts of North Eastern Province. It amounted to an admission that the process had left wide open loopholes for manipulation.

A census is not an opinion poll that allows a margin of error. How do you give a margin of error when you are expected to physically count the respondents?

The whole process left the census authority open to charges of discrimination.

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