NATIONAL TALLY

Economics of Population Census 2019

It is crucial that necessary legislative protections are introduced as a matter of urgency.

In Summary

• It is imperative to consider the necessity of census exercises, in view of the larger picture of socio-economic planning and development

The 2009 census report that was launched at the KICC in Nairobi. /FILE
The 2009 census report that was launched at the KICC in Nairobi. /FILE

Kenya’s decennial population and housing census, which commenced on 24 August 2019 – and is scheduled to run till 31 August 2019 – is expected to offer vital insights on Kenyan’s basic population characteristics, including age, sex, marital status, household composition, family characteristics and household size. The ongoing census, the sixth of its kind post-independence, is heralded as the first in Kenya to utilize electronic means to collect population and housing data. Similarly, the census has been acclaimed as the first in Africa to include a third gender – intersex.

The pioneering aspects of Census 2019 aside, it is imperative to consider the necessity of census exercises, in view of the larger picture of socio-economic planning and development. Census exercises, carried out in almost, if not all, countries are the principal measures through which population sizes for countries and geographical subdivisions within countries are monitored.

Through census exercises, governments collate detailed information on the demographic, social and economic characteristics of their populations. It is expected that statistical data collected during the census exercise will aid the Government of Kenya in the planning and execution of development initiatives envisaged in key policy documents such as Vision 2030, the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Big Four Agenda.

Indeed, the importance of census exercises cannot be understated. In addition to providing crucial population data that may be utilized in the formulation of government policy, census exercises assist in identifying vulnerable groups, guide the allocation of resources, identify development areas and support the delineation of electoral boundaries. This will assist the Government of Kenya in ensuring that vulnerable groups are adequately captured within its developmental plans, economic resources are equitable distributed and the developmental agenda is in sync with the actual, rather than perceived, needs of the populace.

The above notwithstanding, critics have faulted aspects of Census 2019, most notable being the privacy and anonymity of personal data collected during the exercise. While the collation of personal data in census exercises is controversial the world over, this is particularly amplified in Kenya, noting the Nation’s tribal history, and the lack of specific data protection legislation. Unsurprisingly, critics of the exercise have highlighted risks with respect to the misuse of personal data collected and potential ulterior motives behind the exercise, including but not limited to electoral planning along tribal lines.

In order to alleviate criticisms aimed at the Government of Kenya’s use of sensitive personal and population data, it is crucial that necessary legislative protections are introduced as a matter of urgency. This is particularly important in the current information age where personal data may easily be monetized or even weaponized.

All is not doom and gloom, however. Noting the right to privacy guaranteed and protected under Article 31 of the Constitution, and the Data Protection Bill 2018 progressing within the legislative arms of the Government, strides are being made in the right direction.

Karen Kandie – MD IDB Capital