Elder Clara on the left and enumerator Brian on the right. They came to count the eight people in our household on Monday afternoon. Note the white chalk census house number above their heads.

Saturday night/Sunday morning, August 24/25, was the night of the 2019 census in Kenya. People are counted according to where they slept that night. The census itself will take a week and end on August 31. It is not being done like the mail-in census slated for next year in the United States. Rather an enumerator with at tablet to record the information and an “elder” (i.e., a person who knows the community) will visit every household. Each household is given a number. Our enumerator and elder came the Friday before the counting and wrote our number 500/6/026 on our front porch. Our “elder” is Clara who is not actually that old. We bought our plot for our old house from her father and she is one of the women with a fruit/vegetable stand on the road where I sometimes buy bananas or other fruits. She knows the local community and where all the homes are. Brian was the name of the young man who was our enumerator. He quickly tabulated all our answers on his tablet.

Due to problems with some of enumerators in the last 2009 census who inflated the numbers in their home community, this year the enumerator are supposed to come from outside the local community. Since one of the purposes of the census is to allocate government funds, inflated numbers would give the community extra resources from the government. Therefore there is a financial advantage to over counting. There are politicians in Kenya advising people to come from Nairobi and other cities to sleep in their home area on Saturday night in order to be counted so that the home area would receive more government resources. This would, though, cut down on the resources allocated to Nairobi or the other cities. I did not see any evidence that many people did this.

When some arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya were found to have counted up to an extra million “ghost” people in 2009, the government officials responsible for the census wanted to adjust the figures. They were stopped from doing this by the politicians from those areas. The use of a tablet, versus the paper forms used in the 2009 census, by the 138,572 enumerators is one method of enhancing the creditably of counting of real live people.

How accurate this census will be is one of the current “unknowns” of this exercise. Already two chiefs and an assistant in Wajir, one of the areas of over-counting in 2009, have been arrested for inflating the numbers. In the same area one enumerator is reported to have counted 300 people in a thatched roof house and another has counted 600 households when each enumerator is assigned only 100 houses.

There are two interesting developments in this census. There are forty-four recognized tribes in Kenya. The latest addition has been “Asian,” being people with roots in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and of varying religions. This designation exceeds what is normally considered by any definition of “tribe,” a very slippery conceptualization. In Kenya no one can be of a mixed tribe – if the father and mother come from two different tribes, the child must take the tribe of the father.

I participated in the 2009 census and I remember a commentary in the newspaper where the author lamented the fact that his tribe “Kenyan” was not included in the possible selections. For this census “Kenyan” is a “tribe” that a person may select. I wonder how many will select this designation – few I think since most won’t even know about it.

The second major addition is something new in Africa and perhaps in the whole world. There will be three genders, male, female, and intersex. An intersex person, about 1 percent of any population, is a person born with both male and female characteristics because they have XXY chromosomes rather than XX (female) or XY (male) chromosomes. Since they have characteristics of both sexes, they have difficulty identifying as either male or female and may change their opinion of their gender in a binary classification. Some will want to change their name as they become adults. A new law allows intersex Kenyans to do this. I am not sure how accurate the counting will be for this designation since some intersex individuals will be reluctant to acknowledge this to the enumerator.

The census will ask the usual name, age, gender, marital status, educational level, employment, religion, disability, tribe, and, for women over 12 years old, fertility. Here in Kenya “race” – such a contentious issue in the US census – will not occur since that is not considered important in Kenya. A white American and an African-American (or any other American racial classification) will be classified together here in Kenya as just an American.

Since there are numerous other questions, the census is supposed to take half an hour. The other questions include how the house is constructed, whether there is running water, vehicles and motorcycles, TVs, computers/laptops, access to the internet, number of cell phones, and many other items like this. This will also cover agricultural activities including the number of animals (cows and chickens for us), crops grown, irrigation, and so on.

This is a lot of counting. The use of tablets is going to making this counting much easier, faster, and more accurate than the paper forms used in 2009. The preliminary results are supposed to be out in ninety days while the final tally with the details will be announced six months after the census. The estimated population totals I have seen are between 49.4 million and 52.4 million, a rather large spread of 3 million people or almost 6%. I’ll let readers know the results when they come out and the major controversies that are sure to develop.


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David Zarembka

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