Map of the population distribution in Kenya according to the 2019 census. Each dot represents 500 people. The map clearly illustrates how the high density areas of Kenya are confined to a small part of the country.

As I reported in my Report from Kenya last Friday, there were 5 million people (more than 10%) less than the projected population before the census. This has major implications for the country. The recently announced numbers are only the gross snapshot from the census. The details – and many were collected during the census – will be released over the next nine months or so. This will then give a much better picture of the demographic situation in Kenya.

Since the gross national product (GNP) of Kenya has not changed, but the number of people – the denominator for calculating the per capital income — has decreased by 10%, this means that the per capital income has increased by 10% — magically, just like that. It was only in 2014 that Kenya moved from being a lower income country to a middle income country. The per capital income has already been recalculated in Wikipedia to now be $2010 per person or almost double the minimum of $1026 to be considered a middle income country.

We will need to wait for more details to find out the new statistics, for example, the fertility rate. One of the main reasons for the drop of 500,000 people per year must be a considerable decline in the fertility rate, particularly among younger women. In 2004, the Kenyan government decided to abolish school fees for primary school and over a million new students showed up. There was not a corresponding increase in classrooms, teachers, or books, so the students were just stuffed into the existing schools. As a result our grand-generation children usually have around fifty students per classroom. Some schools have up to one hundred students per class. Last year the government decided that all students who finished primary school should enter secondary school. Again there was little or no planning to accommodate the increase in student population. Therefore the fact that the student population will not be increasing in anything like the former projections predicted will mean that additional resources, rather than be used to accommodate more students, can be used to lower class size and enhance the quality of education.

This initial census report also indicated that the average size of household has gone from 4.2 persons per household in 2009 to 3.9 persons per household in 2019. This is a 7 per cent decrease in the size of the average household, again indicating a lowering birth rate.

FP2020 (Family Planning 2020) decided in 2012 was an outline for the 69 countries with high fertility rates to increase targets for family planning by 2020. Kenya is only one of 9 countries out of the 69 that is on target to reach its goals.

Another report from a Kenyan organization called Women at Centre indicated that, since 2012 when the concerted effort was launched to make sure that modern family planning services were implemented throughout the country, 2.4 million unintended pregnancies have been averted. Another 1 million pregnancies may have been averted from the last census in 2009 to 2012. This would account for the majority of the decrease in population indicated by the current 2019 census. The remaining amount can easily be accounted for over-counting which the government flagged in 2009 in 6 counties in northeastern Kenya. The government wanted to do a re-count but was stymied from doing this by parliament led by the MPs from those counties.

A family planning poster from Kenya.

Perhaps you have seen posters similar to this one above from Kenya that promote family planning. Clearly the campaign has been quite successful in Kenya. Nonetheless there are still areas in the arid/semi-arid parts of Kenya where the birth rate is still high. On the other hand the cities have very low birth rates. The family size in Nairobi is only three people, indicated only one child per family. Of course, some of the children from these families may have been sent up-country to live with grandparents as we are doing.

My assessment is that this is extremely good news for Kenya. As it comes out I will update you on other data from the census that I think is important.


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David Zarembka

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Reports from Kenya: