Census and the question of tribe

By Biketi Kikechi and Ally Jamah

Kenyans will today be given the withheld results of 2009 national population census, but one fact is already generating heat - the clustering of the results into tribes and numbers.

The release by Planning Minister Wycliffe Oparanya, coming hot on the heels of the promulgation of the new Constitution, breaks the rule of the last census in 1999 in which the State did away with tribal clustering.

However, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics yesterday said this year, Kenyans will be told how many they are in terms of tribes, a fact criticised by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC).

The wisdom of this decision may raise questions because of the proximity of 2012 elections, the ugly spectre of 2007’s disputed election and subsequent ethnic violence, as well as the fact that in last year’s counting exercise Kenyans had been told they reserved the right not to tell the enumerators their tribes.

"We know that information about tribe and religion is attracting controversy, but we urge Kenyans to interpret the information positively and responsibly," said KNBS’s Director of Population and Social Statistics Dr Collins Opiyo.

The last census held in 1999 did not reveal information on the two issues, while in the 1989 census, which was curiously released five years late, amid controversy and claims of manipulation, Kenyans had been broken down into ethnic groups.

In 1989, the Kikuyu community was listed as the most populous with 4.5 million (20 per cent) followed by Luhya with 3.08 million at 15 per cent, Luo 2.7 million at13 per cent, Kalenjin 2.5 million at 11.6 percent, and Kamba at 2.4 million or 11.5 per cent of the national tally.

The national debate on the 2009 census will also be characterised by questions on why it took the State a year to release the figures. This is because when the results were withheld last year, speculation went round they could have been held back for ‘doctoring’ because of some surprise growth in the number of certain communities — which in Kenya’s political arena has implications on elections.

The 1989 and 1999 census indicate that the country’s population has been growing by about 10 million annually, and the same trend appears to hold in the 2009 census.

Yesterday, National Integration and Cohesion Commission Mzalendo Kibunjia expressed shock that the Government was planning to release the figures based on tribe. "Why should anybody think of issuing national census on tribal lines? What do they want to achieve by doing that?" asked Kibunjia, whose Agenda Four commission was set up to facilitate and promote equality of opportunity, good relations, harmony and peaceful co-existence between persons of different ethnic and racial communities in Kenya and to advice the Government on all aspects of ethic relations.

He said the new Constitution was taking Kenyans away from tribal thinking. He argued that releasing tribal numerical strengths might tempt some tribes to seek to dominate others in some sectors.

He said for the country to achieve total integration, tribalism in the civil service and other sectors must be addressed.

"I would rather not comment further until I confirm for sure the results are pegged on tribes," said a surprised Dr Kibunjia.

Despite the outcry, KNBS admitted information about the size of ethnic communities in Kenya as well as the number of followers of different faiths would be part of the results to be released.

"The two (sets of) figures attract interest because of their political value. It would be a breach of professionalism if we concealed that information from Kenyans despite the potential for misuse," Opiyo argued.

There was heated debate before the census began last year, on whether or not tribe and religion should be included in the list of questions, with some claiming it might worsen divisions in the country.

Deep scrutiny

Questions are also still being asked why it has taken so long for the data to be made public. Unofficial results released by the Committee of Experts on Constitution Review last December indicated Kenya’s population stood at 39,634,056.

The results will attract deep scrutiny from Kenyans because of fears the long delay was a deliberate action by the Government to ‘doctor’ the results.

Stories abound the results were withheld after the population of a dominant tribe in North Eastern Province and another from Western Province grew by three and two-fold respectively during the enumeration exercise.

According to figures released by the CoE, the population of people originally from Central Province and Western Provinces is close — standing at 4.7 and 4.6 million respectively. CoE had explained it sourced the results from Interim Independent Boundary Review Commission, which in turn must have gotten it from either Ministry of Planning or KNBS. IIBRC needed the figures to guide its work on creation of the 80 new constituencies set out in the new constitution.

Questions are also being raised about the timing of the release immediately after the country promulgated the new Constitution, whose spirit was to tame negative ethnicity that in the past resulted in deadly clashes among communities.

The census data was supposed to have been released on December 31, last year, but nothing has been forthcoming till today.

The last census held in 1999, indicated that Kenya had a total population of 29,549,000 people, with a growth rate of 2.52 per cent. Those results were also released after a prolonged delay, without a proper explanation, leading to speculation and political debate.

Opposition parties accused the Government of deliberately withholding the results to rig the 2002 elections before the figures were made public.

The results were released on January 30, 2001 with Rift Valley having the highest number of people at 6,987,036, followed by Eastern (4,631,779), Nyanza (4,392,196), Central (3,724,159), Western (3,358,776), Coast (2,487,264), Nairobi (2,143,254) and North Eastern (962,143).

According to the new figures expected today, the cosmopolitan Rift Valley is again expected to be at the top with 10.2 million people, Eastern second with 6.1 million people, Nyanza third with 5.6 million, Central fourth with 4.7 million, Western fifth with 4.6 million, followed by both Coast and Nairobi with slightly over 3.4 million each, and lastly North Eastern with about 1.3 million.

Oparanya last week told The Standard the delay was meant to ensure the data gathered had been thoroughly scrutinised for mistakes.

The results may generate political interest ahead of 2012 Presidential elections given Kenya’s traditional ethnic rivalries and culture of ethnic-based political alliance building.

Kenya’s current annual population growth rate of 2.8 per cent is considerably higher than the World’s average of 1.2 per cent.

The population is projected to stand at 51.3 million in 2025 and 65 million in 2050. Last year’s was Kenya’s fifth census since 1963.

- Additional reporting by Beauttah Omanga

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Census Planning Minister Wycliffe Oparanya Kenya National Bureau of Statistics National Cohesion and Integration Commission