OPED1 WED: SCIENTIFIC, COST-EFFECTIVE

Census needs upgrade

Finding the population of Kenyans is a mathematical issue that the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics can handle, without a curfew.

In Summary

• Politicians have been encouraging people to go to their villages for the count, and some might have gone to the extent of hiring buses for them. They have reduced the count to votes.

•  The sum total of this is that every cow was expected to stand by its tether to be counted. Physical presence was all that mattered for the census to succeed.    

Census numbers
Census numbers

Census can be scientific, and cost-effective.

The 2019 people and housing count is analog and costly. It's like the way the Bible records the manner it was done before Jesus Christ.   

 The Gospels tell of a census on the eve of the birth of Jesus Christ. The ruler of the inhabited world then, Caesar Augustus, proclaimed a physical headcount. People went to the towns of their birth for the count.    

 
 
 

Joseph, and his fiancé, Mary, left Nazareth in Galilee where they lived, for Bethlehem in Judea. Because Joseph was a direct descendant of David, the parents of Jesus went to Bethlehem. They found hotels fully booked and so they got a space in a manger. This explains why Jesus was born among shepherds.   

 The exercise was compulsory, as emperor Augustus had ordered. The governor of Syria then, Cyrenius, monitored as folks headed to their villages.     

Politicians have been encouraging people to go to their villages for the count, and some might have gone to the extent of hiring buses for them. They have reduced the count to votes.      Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, even cited the gospels, to encourage the people to head to western, the way Joseph and Mary did many centuries ago. But it's not clear how many heeded the back-to-the-village call.      

MPs and leaders with elective ambitions also joined the return-to-your-roots call. They know higher numbers would see their constituencies and wards split when Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission reviews boundaries. There is a threshold of 133,000 people for a constituency to survive the economy of representation axe.      

Ethnic patriotism may not have worked. There were no reports of an upsurge in upcountry-bound traffic. Nor were there reports of an influx of town people in the villages. Upcountry shopping centres did not report a remarkable change in money circulation.     

Counties need more money, which is possible when folks are counted where they were born. Counties with higher numbers get more national budget allocations for infrastructure and others public amenities.       

By staying in towns, away from their tribal homes, people are denying their cradle the numbers that count in the allocation of resources.  Nairobi, and other towns, enjoys an undue numerical advantage when folks refuse to return to the villages for the once-a-decade count.    

Bars were ordered closed by 5pm on Saturday and Sunday, to facilitate the manual count of people in households. Waiters and other workers in those bars, who are paid by the day, lost income for the duration of the census.      

Fishermen were asked to stay in their houses during the two nights. They, too, lost an income. Night runners  —no one knows how many they are —were advised to take a break for two days.      Trans-night prayers - Kesha - were suspended in some counties to allow the count. Night commuters were counted in PSVs at roadblocks. There were no reports of robberies, so far, but the count offered an opportunity for criminals to waylay travelers. International arrivals and departures at airports were monitored.     

The restrictions were a curfew of sorts, as cynical public reactions showed. Some resident of border towns like Busia and Malaba said they would go and drink in bars in Uganda.      The sum total of these orders is that every cow was expected to stand by its tether to be counted. Physical presence was all that mattered for the census to succeed.    

The first census after Independence was in 1963. The national count comes every 10 years, including in 2009. The last count reported there were 39,000,000 Kenyans.   But can there be a better way of getting the numbers?  Can the registrar of births and deaths be trusted with accurate demographic records?      Every birth is recorded. Most of these take place in hospitals. Traditional birth attendants can also facilitate registration.     Every death is also recorded with the local administration. Finding the population of Kenyans is a mathematical issue that the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics can handle, without a curfew.      

Moi University and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology assembled 164,700 data-capture devices at a cost of Sh15,000 for the census. About 164,700 supervisors, 2,700 ICT supervisors, 27,000 content supervisors, and 135,000 enumerators, among other cost items, ride on the Sh18,500,000,000 budget for the 2019 census.    Chiefs and subchiefs can, working with fewer clerks, handle the people and housing count during the last month of every 10th year. KNBS can then validate the data.       

KNBS's advice on new technologies in mapping, data processing, and dissemination can help reduce this cost and ease the curfew. The expert advice of demographers could make the count precise, and cost-effective.