Monday, September 13, 2010

Tragedy of inaccurate census results

Sunday Nation 12 September 2010

One year ago, I wrote in this column about the phenomenon of census and election “migrations” of urban dwellers to their rural homes, and the dangers this posed for planning and service provision.

I argued then that “due to the census and election ‘migrations’, the data on population densities is inaccurate and of little use for decision-making purposes”.

A close analysis of the census results released a couple of weeks ago reveals just how true this statement was, and a good example appeared in the press soon afterwards.

Apparently, due to the reduced, more “accurate” number of residents, Kibera slums lost its title as one of the “largest slums” in the world. This only goes to demonstrate, as I argued last year, that “an area in Nairobi or Mombasa may be neglected due to reportedly low population figures when, in fact, it holds a huge population of ‘up-country’ people who are never counted during the census”.

It is clear to me that Kibera and other informal settlements in this country fell victim to the “being counted at home” mentality, and they will be among the very first victims of this malady when devolved funds are disbursed based on population data and geographical dispersal.

Largely rural counties like Kakamega and Bungoma probably benefited a lot from this migration, and will also benefit from more devolved funds in the new dispensation.

This should serve as a lesson to Kenyans who pack their bags and travel to their rural homes every election and census season, only to spend the intervening periods languishing in poorly planned urban settlements and poorer political leadership.

Another suggestion I made in last year’s census article was that most Kenyans would only be interested in the numbers of their tribesmates for one reason or another.

This, too, was borne out by the reported large number of inquiries by citizens seeking just this information in order to start making political calculations in preparation for the next General Election.

At a funeral ceremony I attended recently, a succession of local politicians plaintively urged their “people” to make haste and increase their numbers in preparation for future political alliances.

A clergyman at the same event wondered aloud whether the night is different for “his people” as opposed to other more populous tribes.
Many Kenyans indicated that their tribe was “Kenyan” during last year’s census.

Although information on their total number has been hard to come by, some sources indicate that 610,122 individuals identified their tribe as “Kenyan”.
I am proud to be counted among that number, and I hope this will become a common occurrence in subsequent censuses.

Hopefully this will help make nonsense of the national infatuation with tribal statistics for political and social reasons.
On a different note, this census revealed something that should deeply disturb all our mainstream religious leaders.

According to the statistics bureau, 922,128 Kenyans indicated that they had “no religion”, which could be interpreted to mean that they are atheists. A further 61,233 individuals said they had no idea what their religion was.

Unless religious organisations evolve to meet the needs of the modern Kenyan, they may be doomed to irrelevance in future.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at the Moi University School of Medicine

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