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Puzzle of Mount Kenya’s ageing population and its voting patterns

The recently released census results have raised credibility questions when compared against the 2017 voter registration figures.

An analysis of the voter spread in the 47 counties highlights disparities around the eligibility to participate in the polls, particularly in seven counties.

According to the Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey 2016, which was conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), half the country’s population was aged below 18 at the time, meaning they were not eligible to vote.

Further, 14.4 per cent of this half was aged between five and nine, accounting for the largest proportion of the below-18 segment.

National average

This means that by 2017, a year after the household survey was done, the demographic spread largely remained the same, meaning half of Kenya’s population was still not eligible to vote, with those attaining voting status being a small number.

Even now in 2019, a significant change in the adult population is not anticipated, which means that even in a best-case scenario, any county with more than 51 per cent of its population being registered voters should raise questions.

However, according to the 2019 census numbers, seven counties attain this feat: Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Nyeri, Nyandarua, Embu, Tharaka Nithi and Nairobi.

Interestingly, aside from Nairobi which was a battleground in the 2017 General Election, the other six counties are Jubilee strongholds.

Further, looking at the other Jubilee strongholds outside of these six in Mt Kenya, the number of registered voters remains high, and far above the national average of 41 per cent – which means four in every 10 Kenyans are registered to vote. For instance, Kiambu comes in at 49 per cent, Laikipia at 48 per cent and Meru at 45 per cent.

And things get even more interesting when you look at the other Jubilee stronghold – Deputy President William Ruto’s Rift Valley backyard.

Here, the numbers tell a different story.

Only two counties rank above the national average of 41 per cent – Nakuru (44 per cent) and Kericho (42 per cent). The rest fall below the national average, which infers that the DP did not mobilise his backyard enough during the voter registration drive held ahead of the 2017 elections.

In fact, in his county of Uasin Gishu, only 39 per cent of the population is registered to vote, with Narok trailing the region, with only a third of its people registering.

In Opposition strongholds, Mombasa and Lamu counties take the lead, with the highest number of registered voters against their population at 48 per cent.

They are followed by Kisumu at 47 per cent, while Siaya, Taita, Vihiga and Nyamira tie at 46 per cent.

Mobilise population

However, there were sections of Western, especially the two big counties of Kakamega and Bungoma, as well as half of the Coast region and some parts of Nyanza like Migori, where the Opposition could have rallied more of their supporters to register.

The Northern Kenya region shows the lowest number of registered voters against population. Counties like Garissa, Mandera, Turkana and Wajir have an average of two registered voters in every 10 people.

If the region’s leaders were to mobilise their population to register, and targeted the 2017 national average of 41 per cent, they would bring an additional 200,000 new votes.

This is easy target for them because they have the highest population of young voters aged between 18 and 35. An average of six in 10 registered voters are classified as youth.

This is against a national average of five in 10 of those eligible to cast their vote being aged between 18 and 35.

The logical explanation in the Mt Kenya counties where more than half the population has registered to vote is that in the past 10 years, they have had a bigger population maturing from underage – that is, below 18 – into adulthood.

But, the numbers paint a different story. The six counties have the lowest number of registered youth voters, which generally means that Mt Kenya has the highest ageing population, with Murang’a, Nyeri and Kirinyaga leading.

However, according to the household budget survey, this region has a fairly distributed population across the three age groups of 0-14, 15-64 and above 64. Further, the six counties are among those with the least number of households in Kenya, going by census data.

But the voter register shows an ageing population.

This data reveals some of the key issues policy analysts will have to grapple with as questions are raised around the census numbers.