Of long memories, census enumerators and population spurts

Have you been counted every single time since you were born?

In Summary

• A walk down memory lane to previous population counts

Count me out
Count me out
Image: /OZONE

I have a long memory and can remember incidents from around the time I was two years old, but even I cannot recall my first census. It was carried out in the year of my birth. Unfortunately, the two other people I could have asked for details are no longer enumerated as being among the living.

The only other census I remember being counted in was in 1979. I was 10 years old and felt very special and somehow grown up, sitting up late and chatting to the enumerators (census officials, in plain English). Of course, the new ID cards had recently been issued. I can’t remember if the Nyayoism cult had properly taken hold, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were referred to as ‘Nyayo IDs’. I was miffed that I had another eight years — almost my whole life at that point — to wait until I got one. 

Nevertheless, I was still counted and came to make up the 15.3 million Kenyans of the time.

As Kenyans get counted again in the Kenya Population and Housing Census 2019, my mind goes back to the last time I was counted in a national census, and if memory serves me right, it was in 1989.

By the time the 1989 census came around, I was already a “been-to.” In fact, I had just returned to Kenya after a few years away studying in Britain, and as well as finally acquiring an ID, I had also landed myself a job.

The thing is, however, I was not counted at home. On the October night the enumerators came around, I was visiting my cousins in another part of town, and somehow, I always felt that by not being at home, I had messed about with the statistic that queried how many people lived in a particular house.

This little issue of not being at home shouldn’t have bothered me. In the end, the results of that census were kept a state secret for five years, surrounded by claims of political manipulation, fraud and forgery. 

I don’t recall any formal apology or even a proper explanation, from the authorities about the delay, and by that time, Kenyans were so wrapped up in the adventure that was the first couple of years of multi-party politics that the matter was soon forgotten.

That census claimed the population had risen to 21 million Kenyans. That said, I seem to remember that from about 1983 onwards, government officials from the President down kept speaking of “20 million Kenyans”.

You must be aware that for a couple of years, the Guinness Book of World Records featured Kenya as having the highest population growth in the world at 4 per cent. For whatever reason, we were multiplying like rabbits.

In 1999 and 2009, the enumerators skipped me for reasons best known to themselves, and of course, this year if they look for me, they will find I am domiciled abroad.

Have you been counted every single time since you were born, or have there been times when you were just estimated?