Census should be postponed as political schemes rage

Having forgotten the near civil war they caused in 2008, Kenyan politicians are scheming to manipulate this year’s national population census leading to calls for its postponement.

People in Nairobi.

People in Nairobi.

The national census is scheduled for August 24 and the government has already allocated personnel and finances for the exercise. With politics in Kenya assuming an ethnic dimension, there are fears that the census could spark fresh clashes.

Political forces could engage in ethnic cleansing of their areas so as to portray ethnic homogeneity. Immigrants who have settled into farming and commerce away from their ethnic homelands could be hardest hit with arguments that they don’t “belong.” Some devious politicians are already misleading the public that if immigrants are included in the population count of a particular district, they will have a right to resource allocations for that district.

Politicians want to get as many people as possible counted within their constituencies. This writer, who lives in Nairobi, has been approached by aspiring political candidates from her home district who are “advising” that she travels to be counted with her kinsfolk back there.

Politicians not only wish to inflate the populations of their constituencies but also that of their ethnic groups in general. This will not only determine how much development cash they will get, but could also increase their bargaining power during political negotiations. A politician who is seen as the head of a bigger tribe could get a more prominent government position compared to those politicians from smaller tribes.

A year ago, a member of parliament usually associated with progressive politics was quoted urging constituents to have more children so as to increase the population. Not surprisingly, there was little mention of how those children were going to be fed, educated, clothed and housed.

As signs indicate the possibility of ethnic clashes because of the census, there are calls that the activity be shelved until national stability is restored.

Just this week, former chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Maina Kiai, warned against the census due to growing conflict between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. “We can all see the rising political tension. In Kenya, whenever political tension rises, ethnic tensions also rise,” said Kiai.

Kiai dismissed the August 24 census, saying communities will be trying to manipulate their numbers. “Every community will want to outdo the other. And it is the enumerators who will be trying to increase the numbers of their people. I don’t know how the tallying centre will be managed,” Mr Kiai said.

This is exactly what happened with the December 2007 General Election. Though the actual voting was fair and credible, returning officers and clerks changed the vote count in favor of their preferred political candidates. One returning officer from Mombasa told an Electoral Commission of Inquiry that he decided to create his own figures because he was exhausted from three days of counting.

For these reasons, there are those who want the national census supervised by an international body such as the United Nations in order to ensure the credibility of results. What will happen if the census shows some tribes having surpassed others in population? What will happen if proved that some ethnic groups have a higher living standard than others? Or that some tribes have lower living standards than others?

Clearly, the government has not thought about the consequences of the census amidst the volatile political climate created by cruel and corrupt politicians.

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