SOCIOECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

More to Census data than tribal numbers

Are we asking why we have such low living standards, especially in rural areas?

In Summary
  • Just a paltry 10 per cent have access to piped water; 41 per cent live in mud and cow dung-walled houses in rural areas; 92 per cent of Kenyans living in rural areas still rely on wood and charcoal for cooking fuel;
  • Only 9.7 per cent have access to sewer while another 72 per cent burn and bury their domestic solid waste.
A woman carries firewood on her head at Bidii.
A woman carries firewood on her head at Bidii.
Image: NICHOLAS WAMALWA

Politics of ethnic numbers is one of the obsessions that we Kenyans reverently get into, especially when political stakes are high, particularly around electioneering periods. The Kenya Population and Housing Census data by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) has again stirred the usual undertones of tribe and politics.

We have heard murmurs about certain ‘numbers’ not representing the ‘actual’ numbers of certain ethnic groups, yet KNBS has captured pertinent human development issues that deserve our utmost national attention.

For instance, just a paltry 10 per cent have access to piped water; 41 per cent live in mud and cow dung-walled houses in rural areas; 92 per cent of Kenyans living in rural areas still rely on wood and charcoal for cooking fuel; only 9.7 per cent have access to sewer while another 72 per cent burn and bury their domestic solid waste.

 

Clearly there is a lot of work to be done on improving on the quality of life for Kenyans. But are we asking why we have such low living standards for many Kenyans, especially in rural areas?

In November 2019, the Ministry of Energy and the Clean Cooking Association of Kenya released a national survey report that revealed that solid wood fuel is a silent death trap in many households. Approximately 21,500 Kenyans lose their lives each year due to indoor air pollution arising from using solid wood and charcoal.

Let us defer the parochial ‘tribal number’ politics for a minute and ask the candid questions. With a young population where the majority fall between 0 to 35 years, what do we need to do to create more jobs to absorb the youthful population into the labour force?

These are some of the pertinent issues that should invoke candid debates about what needs to be done to improve living standards using the census data.

Regrettably, some have cherry picked the population and housing data for parochial political agenda-setting rather than making in-depth inquiries into what the statistics imply for Kenya’s socioeconomic development agenda. As a matter of fact, the data validates the need for the Big Four agenda—affordable housing, food security, manufacturing and universal healthcare. 

Some argue that the so-called ‘big tribes’ still have a controlling stake on national politics by virtue of the ‘tyranny of numbers’. Unofficially, proponents of such debates assume that minority tribes cannot produce national leaders just because they do not have controlling majorities to significantly influence national elections.

But let us defer the parochial ‘tribal number’ politics for a minute and ask the candid questions. With a young population where the majority fall between 0 to 35 years, what do we need to do to create more jobs to absorb the youthful population into the labour force?

When are we going to achieve the globally recommended 10 per cent forest cover when 92 per cent of rural communities still rely on solid wood and charcoal for cooking fuel? With our perennial cycles of drought and hunger? What does Kenya need to do to ensure food security for the growing population?

The census data should not be truncated to mere ‘ethnic numbers’ for elective politics. We need to use the data to construct appropriate national discourse around issues of socioeconomic development and not the ‘tribal number’ calculus and political balkanisation, which will never inspire socioeconomic development.