CENSUS

Politicians’ affinity to witchcraft makes them fear, manipulate data

In Summary

• Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, KNBS released the results of 2019 census and with it came mixed reactions.

• The traditional approach to the population census consists of the registration of all individuals and their details using paper questionnaires during a field operation that normally lasts a few days or weeks.

Kenya National Bureau Of Statistics director general Zachary Mwangi and Planning PS Julius Muia during the launch of 2019 economic survey in Nairobi on April 25
FASTEST TALLYING: Kenya National Bureau Of Statistics director general Zachary Mwangi and Planning PS Julius Muia during the launch of 2019 economic survey in Nairobi on April 25
Image: ENOS TECHE

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, KNBS released the results of 2019 census and with it came mixed reactions.

Almost all countries conduct a population census at least once every 10 years, often together with a housing census, which is the official counting of the housing stock and collection of housing characteristics.

The traditional approach to the population census consists of the registration of all individuals and their details using paper questionnaires during a field operation that normally lasts a few days or weeks. Some countries conduct censuses using data from population registers and other administrative sources, without collecting data in the field.

Recently, various alternative census approaches have been developed, making use of register data combined with field data collection and as well as other sources. The most important aspect in any society is human capital. Census is important because this process helps compile a numerical profile of a nation. This, in turn, informs decision-making at all levels both in government and the private sector.

In Kenya, the exercise is also carried out every 10 years, not as a ritual, but as a key determinant in planning and development. It is expected to help the government in allocating funds equitably and properly for community programmes and services such as education, housing and healthcare. Further, the allocation of funds is determined by the census and the poverty index per constituency.

Census results are also key in guiding the review of boundaries as well as in the delimitation of electoral boundaries. Such boundaries’ review takes into account, apart from the population, geographical features, community interest, historical, economic and cultural ties as well as means of communication.

At the local level, the census data is used as a yardstick for the allocation of funds for roads, water, community libraries, schools and other social amenities. But it is not solely for use by the government since business organisations use it to determine where to start a factory, shopping centres, banks and offices, which in turn create jobs. The developed world and development partners also use it for funding.

However, political schemers take advantage of this to map out their strategies in winning elections by targeting densely populated regions to add to their vote baskets. This negative political practice has borrowed heavily and been perfected from the American political manipulation of the early 19th Century associated with Elbridge Gerry.

It coined the term Gerrymandering as a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries. Elbridge Gerry, was the Governor of Massachusetts in 1812, and signed a bill that created a partisan district in the Boston area that was compared to the shape of a mythological salamander.

In addition to its use achieving desired electoral results for a particular party, gerrymandering may also be used to help or hinder a particular demographic entity such as a political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group, such as in Northern Ireland where boundaries were constructed to guarantee Protestant Unionist majorities. Gerrymandering can also be used to protect incumbents by enabling politicians to pick their voters instead of voters picking their politicians.

Kenya’s population today stands at 47.6 million people up from 37.7 million in 2009. Already, some politicians are crying foul and feeling shortchanged by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. The governors of Kakamega, Vihiga, Meru, Mandera, Nyamira and Kisii have accused the agency of tinkering with the exercise to produce results unfavourable to their respective regions.

They have been joined in this chorus by some leaders from the Central Kenya region. The results have demonstrated a significant drop in population growth rate since the last count. Prior to the launch of the census, leaders had exhorted their kith and kin to troop back to their respective counties of birth for enumeration. The governors’ concerns seem to represent the views of many a political leader focused more on the 2022 succession politics. Kenya’s politics since the infamous Tharaka Nithi vote tally of 2007 has revolved around the concept of Tyranny of Numbers.

The fear is further compounded by the fact that IEBC will most certainly use the figures to undertake border review by the end of 2021. Current constituencies that do not meet the constitutional threshold of 164,138 people will be reorganised through mergers and amalgamation to create new electoral boundaries. The government and its agencies must demonstrate fidelity to the cause of the census by using the results to distribute the national cake equitably to every citizen.

However, unlike the American episode associated with the Governor of Massachusetts, political leaders in Africa and especially Kenya also fear statistics from a spiritual orientation. Political leaders have anathema for data and its attendant analysis because of the allure of witchcraft.

WITCHCRAFT

During election periods, aspiring candidates are known or said to flock to witchdoctors’ dens for intercession with the black power. The witchdoctors who operate in the underworld are believed to perform magic and deliver victories where none seem possible. The general voter is always held spellbound by the occult activities of the witchdoctors.

The politicians’ disdain for data analysis is based on the quick fixes that their respective magicians promise to deliver. Collection and analysis of objective data is a tedious and mind-taxing exercise that requires discipline and commitment to science.

However, leaders still have faith that if they harness well spiritual forces, then they are capable of solving objective human problems. They, therefore, find an empirical approach to finding solutions to human challenges time-wasting and unnecessarily long-winding. Unfortunately, this is also the main undoing for national development. Resources are allocated flippantly and without any regard to objective conditions.

The development plans hardly follow any pragmatic theoretical orientation but is always left to the whims of those in power. Results of processes are proclaimed apriori and data is generated afterwards to justify the determined outcome. This approach to solution finding resonates more with witchcraft than science. It is claimed that the politicians visit the witchdoctor but do not ask to find out about the possibility of winning. Instead, a win is declared and the witchdoctor works backwards to secure the win. The candidate is advised on what must be done to justify the impending and assured victory. Most of the conditions to be met include gory activities, which mostly belong to crime.

However, Kenyan politicians are easily taken to this route than go the mind taxing and predictable analytical approach. It is against this backdrop that the current political leadership’s objection to the census results should be understood.