Census ought to make fair representation possible

The recently released census results indicate that our population has grown by about ten million since the last time a national census was conducted almost a decade ago in 2010. Today, Kenya is a nation of about 47.5 million people, meaning our population grew by over one quarter in the past decade.

With that kind of growth comes many challenges - adjusting the labour market to suit the needs of increasingly educated youths, ensuring that modern infrastructure allows for smooth trade and commerce, developing more green energy plants so that we do not put more strain than is necessary on the environment, and so on. 

Population management

However, something less often discussed but of no less importance is making sure that even as a country grows in population, good governance is maintained. Mega countries such as China and India each have their own way of managing their large populations.

In China, since the nation is mostly homogenous and they were not colonised as a whole by European invaders over the past two centuries, the central government is able to exert a high amount of control and surveillance over its citizens, sometimes at the expense of their freedom.

India, in contrast, is a much more heterogeneous country, and this has often posed difficulties for creating a sense of national cohesion and identity. Violent inter-ethnic and inter-religious clashes are not uncommon, with some opposition groups fiercely and forcefully opposing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration.

In smaller Scandinavian countries where homogeneity is the norm, opposition to government tends to be expressed through far more peaceful means. Their national unity has a much longer history than many global south states, which has led to faster and earlier economic growth and histories far less bloody than ours.

At 47.5 million, Kenya lies somewhere in the middle. We are a relatively new nation-state, born out of the blood of heroes that fought for our independence from the British. We are not one of the world’s largest nations yet our population is not insignificant, and it is growing. Like India, we are extremely ethnically diverse and speak many languages.

Unity versus uniformity

But what we should be working towards is unity - not uniformity, like in the Chinese case. Our national fabric is like a tapestry woven together of many different threads, all coming together to form a single cohesive piece.

To keep this going, it is imperative that the government have reliable statistics about each of the different counties. The fact that Kenya is the first country in Africa to release census results just two months after the counting was completed is a huge success.

Having a good idea of population, including age, gender and size of county is extremely important to the good governance goals we have been working towards. Development strategy such as devolution and provision of healthcare services, good and modern education is dependent upon knowing how to fairly allocate tax revenue. 

Therefore, criticisms that of numbers provided by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) are likely self-serving attempts by certain leaders looking to pull more money to the constituencies they represent. While census data was counted, it was not uncommon for governors to request that people living in cities return to their rural places of birth in order to be counted there.

It seems that politicians questioning KNBS numbers are also more occupied with 2022 politics than social provisions based on tax revenue in the current fiscal year. Put more simply, their concern in politics rather than fairness.

Fair resource allocation

Allocation of funds must be representative of actual population sizes. The government's goal in carrying out the successful census count ties into a recurring theme across the country- fair representation. The aim of the BBI is to listen to the voices of all Kenyans, not just those with more socioeconomic advantages living in big cities, but also the rural folk from the coast to Lake Turkana and Lake Victoria regions.

Hopefully, the BBI report will answer what has been elusive for far too long; what is it that the people really want and how do they want it done.

In the final scheme of things, census and the BBI should promote people-centred leadership. Leaders need to appreciate that leadership is scacrifice, a privilege, a calling and not an avenue for self-aggrandisement and wealth-creation.