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September 26, 2018

Survey is serious business

NOT SO HOMELY: Left, houses of the rich.
NOT SO HOMELY: Left, houses of the rich.

I was standing outside a Land Cruiser, parked outside a police station. Being at the station disturbed me even though it was not my first time to find myself there.

That, however, did not stop me from feeling uneasy. A feeling of hopelessness and embarrassment engulfed me. Despite the heavy presence of police, I still felt insecure.

Those who have had a brush with the men in blue, whether as a suspect or a victim, and somehow were let off the hook, will try to avoid a police station like a plague. It is, therefore, a show of naivety when an offender arrogantly asks you to call the police when caught in the wrong.

The man I had brought to the police station was at the Occurrence Book desk recording a statement. You could have been easily fooled that he had a high fever from the way he was trembling with fear.

Moments earlier, he was full of himself even after we threatened to have him arrested. But a brush with security agents, however, had reduced him to a shell.

Police cells in Kenya are nothing to write home about. When I saw the officers leading the poor guy into the cells, my heart broke. I regretted why I conformed to his wishes to be put behind bars. He probably had not thought before he leapt – choices have consequences.

That morning, we had woken up earlier than usual in order to be at people's homes before their owners headed out for work. I was working with a group of young graduate statisticians employed by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Our work was to collect data from randomly selected households, and deliver them to the government for analysis. We had a structured questionnaire, which the men were supposed to fill. Their wives were taken through a separate interview, which was strictly confidential.

Husbands and their wives were interviewed privately to enhance the accuracy of the data. The questions were about community health, family planning, literacy level, poverty and domestic violence.

This survey is conducted every five years. It is costly, and United Nation's UNDP and UNICEF help with the logistics. The sensitive nature of the operation demands that participants take an oath to guarantee oath taker's own honesty and integrity in the matter under question.

That is to say, the husband and wife were not to reveal to each other the subject of the survey. The exercise, which will take 160 days, is being carried out in all the 47 counties.

When the findings are handed to the Central government, policies will be formulated to satisfy the needs expressed by the respondents. To make the survey credible, random sampling is used to collect data among the affluent, middle-class families and the poor.

In the areas I have been assigned to, the poor have received us warmly. They insist on us having a cup of tea first before the interview. Afterwards, they escort us back to the car, and invite us to pay them a visit again.

However, the upper-class, who are exposed, well-informed and educated, have been hostile towards us. They are flatly refusing to be interviewed, and others are playing a hide-and-seek game with the interviewers.

They are unwilling to reveal any information – personal or general. They would not even tell us the number of people living in the household, or whether their children have been vaccinated.

In one incident, one of our groups was almost attacked by dogs after an owner of one home released his dogs from their kennel. This was despite us informing the owner, well in advance, that we would give them a visit. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Back to our friend who had a run in with the police. He had one of the questionnaires used by the data collecting team. That, to the government, is a criminal offence and the man had to face the law. Surveys are conducted for your own good, take them seriously.

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