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Census count revision targets North Eastern Kenya

By Mohamed Guleid | February 20th 2017
Mohamed Guleid.

The storm created by the last census won’t die down just yet.
According to the 2009 population census conducted by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Kenya has 38,600,000 people.

However, these figures were disputed by the Government and after a ‘smoothening’ process the KNBS revised the population figure to 37,700,000 less by roughly 900,000 people. It is understandable that errors could occur, but not to the extent that a figure is revised down nearly by a million.

That is just a lot by any measure. And now it has emerged that most of the reduction was done in the North Eastern counties of Wajir, Mandera and Garissa.

The census results from eight districts in these counties were cancelled. Ironically, the KNBS discredited an exercise conducted by its own officers using tools it approved. Strangely also, the smoothening exercise targeted mainly these three counties.

One would have expected an even distribution across the country to limit cases of bias. What is more, the revision of the census figures was done through estimation rather than a new census which should have been the logical thing to do.

On the surface, the consequences of this undercounting could mean nothing. Yet nothing is as emotive as a population size. Having more people translates to more resource allocation from the National Government. And so it is tempting to conclude that the underdevelopment of the Northern Frontier is by design rather than by accident.

The understatement of this population could well explain the low premium attached to the NEP region in general when it comes to vote power and that despite parametres like fertility rate indicating that NEP has recorded the highest in the country in the last 10 years with average children per woman being 9-10. Is that why this region is not courted for votes? Indeed, it is an afterthought even in the campaign trails of key politicians. Check.

Is that why a group of mainly Central Kenya MPs could entertain the thought of replacing Aden Duale as the Leader of the Majority in National Assembly?

Recall the pushback in the aftermath of the Garissa University attack where at least 60 people were murdered by Al Shabaab? That sense of ‘you-don’t-deserve-to-be where-you-are’ is so pronounced when it comes to North Eastern Kenya.

Here’s how this conundrum can be addressed; there are sophisticated ways by which a population can be determined with minimal error. In the case of Nigeria, population size has been a matter of contention for long. Researchers used satellite imagery and geographical information systems and determined that Nigeria’s population is actually 148 million.

Of course there were protests there. In the meantime, the three affected counties have gone to court to stop the government from adopting the revised figures after the High Court overruled the government’s decision to cancel the results.

But work should go on. And so the National Treasury has adopted the KNBS version of the census and has used the revised population census for purpose of budget planning including division of revenue allocations for the counties. This is strange since the appeals court has not made a final decision.

The reduction in revenue for these counties is significant especially because the Division of Revenue Bill uses parameters set by the Commission of Revenue Allocation to determine how much money should be given to each of the 47 counties with the most significant parameter being population size which accounts for 45 per cent of the criteria for sharing revenue.

And so after downsizing the census numbers, each of the counties from the former North Eastern Province stands to lose more than a billion shillings each in revenue.

This is in addition to the downward revision of total allocations for the financial year 2017-2018 where the National Treasury reduced the allocations for the counties from Sh317 billion as proposed by the CRA to Sh299 billion, a short fall of Sh18 billion.

Yet most surprising in all this is the silence of the Council of Governors whose chief role is to defend the interests of the counties. Besides that, the Intergovernmental Budget and Economic Forum which is chaired by the Deputy President has not met for some time now.

This is the forum where the county and national government departments tasked with budgetary planning meet and harmonise the expectations of the groups. This being an election year, chances are these high level meetings might not take place since the focus is on the elections.

All in all, the reduction in revenue for the three former North Eastern counties will have far-reaching ramifications. All of them have planned for the budgets of their activities for the next 5 or 10 years.

Besides, this region was already underdeveloped and definitely more resources are required to bring it up to par with the rest of the country.

Back to the ‘smoothening’ process by KNBS, the question is ; why have they decided to mechanically reduce the population for three counties across board by 40 percent? This makes the nullification of the census suspect.


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