Why NEP is restless over census data

The Kenya Population and Housing Census Report of 2019 was released on Monday, November 4 and straightaway, it sparked controversy. The report, for instance, asserted that the population in Mandera County had dropped in 10 years, from 1,025,756 in 2009, to 867,457 in 2019.

The results from Wajir County were puzzling too, with only a marginal increase of 18 per cent from 661,941 in 2009 to 781,263 in 2019. Wajir North registered a -17 per cent or -23,413 reduction in population. Wajir East registered a -1.7 per cent or -1,918 reduction while Tarbaj registered a -49 per cent or -54,614 reduction in population.

There was no explanation for this unexpected drop, since Wajir County has a fertility rate of 7.8 against the national average of 3. Furthermore Wajir County has a contraception prevalence of only 3 per cent against the national average of 10 per cent. This news triggered debate suggesting a conspiracy to achieve certain ends with the numbers. There are universal and scientifically accepted causes for demographic declines throughout human history, and none has been experienced in northern Kenya counties.

The depopulation factors normally include civil wars, insurrections and/or prolonged ethnic genocides and pogroms. An epidemic or a plague of terrible proportions can also wipe out huge sections of local populations. Natural calamities like drought, earthquakes, starvation or torrential floods for a lengthy period of time can too, contribute to serious decimation and/or displacement of peoples. An increased uptake of family planning initiatives like contraception, vasectomy or ovisectomy may also contribute to drops in birth rates.

Curiously though, none of the above have been registered in northern Kenya. But let’s go back in history. Way back in 2009, when the last population and housing census was held and northern Kenya returned impressive returns, some government officials grew cold feet and cancelled the results. Northern Kenya leaders sought the court’s help. The intrigues that followed inspires suspicions that the state had an agenda against northern Kenya. How else could one explain the fact that other communities had equally registered high demographic returns in 2009, and yet their results were not questioned?

Universally, population groups register predictable trends. So far, statistics from the World Population Review indicates that Kenya’s population is estimated at between 52.5 million and 52.9 million.

Huduma puzzle

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Besides, when the government recently finalised the registration for Huduma Number, there were reports it had registered 50 million people but the census report of 2019 indicates the population is 47,564,300. This then means that around 2,500,000 people have died since the closure of Huduma Number, and curiously too, nobody has been born in Kenya since then.

The government hasn’t tabled any report that could be used to explain such peculiar propositions. Census, is a standardised research exercise that must encompass clarity of context in terms of methodology, processes, procedures, perceptions, believability and predictability. Furthermore, a census project must be aligned with international best practices. In the absence of these best practices, how can one believe the population of Kiambu County sprang from 1,623,282 in 2009 to 2,417,735 in 2019, in the face of existential demographic challenges known to the public?

But the big question is: Why would anyone conspire to interfere with the census results from the northern Kenya? The answers are clear. First, a reduction of population leads to reduction of constituencies, which then means a reduction of the number of MPs, who would be useful in a parliamentary system of government.

The reduction of the constituencies would also mean that the wards would automatically reduce. CDF, the Equalisation Fund and other funds from the exchequer would be cut because of the demographic drops. The net effect is that these regions would revert to their pre-devolution status.

- The writer is a resident of Wajir and comments on topical issues

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Kenya Population and Housing Census ReportCensusNEP