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Why there is opposition to census repeat in northern Kenya districts

By | August 20th 2011

By Stephen Makabila

What is the motivation behind political resistance to Government’s planned repeat census in eight districts in northern Kenya?

When he released the 2009 census results in August last year, Planning Minister Wycliffe Oparanya announced a repeat census had been ordered in eight districts after inconsistencies were noted in the population data.

Planning Minister Wycliffe Oparanya and his assistant Peter Kenneth (left). During the release of the 2009 population data, a repeat census was ordered in eight northern Kenya districts after inconsistencies were noted. [PHOTO: COURTESY]

The districts affected are Lagdera, Wajir East, Mandera Central, Mandera East, Mandera West, Turkana Central, Turkana North and Turkana South.

True to his word, one year down the line Oparanya wants the repeat census carried out, with the Treasury having released Sh400 million to facilitate the exercise.

MPs from affected districts have put up a strong resistance, while non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in affected areas are for the exercise. Oparanya insists the exercise has to go on.

MPs from affected districts have termed the planned exercise illegal and unnecessary, and vowed to rally their electorate against it.

Devolved system

Among those opposed to the exercise is Northern Kenya Development Minister Mohammed Elmi and Deputy Speaker Farah Maalim. In their view, the exercise is a ploy to reduce the number of constituencies paving way for ‘institutionalised marginalisation’.

Political analyst Martin Oloo says the problem is that leaders from affected districts feel a repeat of the exercise may make them lose out in the delimitation of the 80 new constituencies proposed by the defunct Andrew Ligale Commission.

"This is a misplaced fear because apart from population, there are other things to be considered such as cultural and geographical factors," said Oloo, a lecturer at the Kenya School of Law.

Prof Munene Macharia of the United States International University argues that the political resistance to the repeat population counting has to do with the expected devolved system of government and resource allocations.

"The political leadership in affected areas know that in a devolved system, resources would be allocated as per the population, making the question of numbers a sensitive one," said Macharia.

He blames the Government over the flaws in affected districts, arguing it is a reflection of a failed system.

However, both Macharia and Oloo agree that a repeat process was the best way out to establish the true figures of the population in affected districts. The Anglican Church of Kenya Justice and Peace Co-ordinator in the six counties of the North Rift region, Rev Maritim Arap Rirei, says his church supports repeat census in Turkana County.

"If there is nothing to hide, why resist it?" poses Rirei, who adds the figures may be higher than what leaders are trying to defend.

But Reverend Samson Akoru, the secretary general of the Reformed Church of East Africa, which has significant following in Turkana County, backs political leaders calling for a stop to the exercise.

Political leadership

"Low numbers were realised in past census because of transport difficulties. Improved transport meant the counting staff reached nomadic families wherever they were and that is why the figure increased in the 2009 count," noted Akoru, who hails from Lokichar in Turkana South.

Akoru also wonders how residents of the eight affected districts working outside their home area will be counted in the repeat exercise.

"If the process has to be repeated, let it be across the country. Discrimination against marginalised communities should come to an end," added Akoru.

The census results for the eight districts were cancelled because of unusual men-women ratios and a huge divergence from the projected figures from past population counts.

Sources indicate there was also concern that the number of Kenyan Somalis had more than doubled from 800,000 in 1999 to 2.3 million in 10 years, creating fear that some had crossed over from Somalia.

Assistant Minister for Higher Education and Tigania West MP Kilemi Mwiria says he cannot understand why elected leaders would challenge a Government attempt to correct a mistake; if at all one was made.

"In any case, if they are right the 2009 results are accurate, a repeat done meticulously, can only confirm their claim. Unfortunately for them, an objective, non-political analysis of the census results of the districts in question, points to some mischief," pointed out Dr Mwiria last week.

According to Mwiria, the opposition to a repeat census is dishonest and an attempt to discriminate against other Kenyan communities along the same logic being advanced by opposing MPs.

Community undercounted

But the opposing MPs want President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to stop the Planning ministry from carrying out a recount.

But cracks seem to be emerging in the political leadership in the region, with some MPs backing the exercise.

Special Programmes Assistant minister Mohammed Ali has asked the Planning ministry to repeat the census, as has Arid Lands Assistant Minister Hussein Sasura, who believes the Borana community was undercounted in the 2009 national census. Several NGOs operating in the region also want Oparanya to ignore the opposition. They include Northern Pastoralists Association, Northern Land Watch, Wajir Shallow Wells Cooperative Society, Yahooda Youth Group Wajir and Madina Residents Association.

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