Questions linger on as citizens ready for census tonight

What you need to know:

  • A legal notice published in October 2018 compels people to answer accurately to all the 36 details sought in the exercise

  • Government yet to explain why it is counting people again three months after Huduma Namba listing.

  • The silence following the conclusion of the Sh7.7 billion biometric registration exercise in May has even made matters worse.

Several controversies have dogged the preparatory phase of the decennial census that gets underway Saturday evening even as the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) maintains that they are ready for the count.

The census will kick off at 6pm and continue until August 31. Today’s evening, referred to as the Census Reference Night, will be key.


After 52 days of queuing to participate in another digital registration exercise dubbed Huduma Namba, many are yet to fully comprehend why the census will be gobbling up Sh18.5 billion to ask more or less the same questions that were asked barely three months ago.

The silence following the conclusion of the Sh7.7 billion biometric registration exercise in May has even made matters worse.

A first of its kind, every Kenyan was expected to get a unique number after the exercise that saw biometrics captured (digital fingerprints and photo) but no number or card has been forthcoming and the government has been silent about it. It also remains unclear when the numbers will be out or even the exact number of people that were registered in the exercise, which ended on May 25.

As if that was not enough, the preparatory phase of the census has been marked with poor and sometimes confusing communication. For instance, many Nairobians were not aware that there would be a pre-enumeration visit to houses by enumerators (pre-listing) on Friday. Some in Greenfields, Donholm, were almost lynched when they appeared outside peoples’ doors claiming to be conducting the pre-listing, which residents were not aware of.

In South C, another enumerator was confronted by residents who did not understand her mission when the counting was still some 48 hours away.


Many people we talked to said they were not aware of such an exercise as KNBS had not informed the public to expect such visits. “I heard a knock on my door last evening (Thursday) and the person standing there introduced himself as a KNBS staff carrying out some census-related exercise. I could not understand what this was about because I knew census was starting on Saturday,” said John Mutua of Pipeline estate, Nairobi. According to Mr Mutua, he sent the official away because he feared he could be a criminal posing as census staff.

Still on communication, KNBS problems were compounded by matters beyond their control. Having requested that Monday, August 26 be declared a public holiday, State House’s communication unit appeared to jump the gun by announcing that President Uhuru Kenyatta had agreed to the request before quickly sending out a clarification that there would be no holiday.

In an interview with the Nation last week before the State House mix-up that all but ended hopes of public holiday, KNBS director-general Zachary Mwangi had spoken passionately about the need for Monday to be a holiday.

“If we get Monday as a holiday it will make our work a bit easier as many people will be settled at home. As a tradition, we have always been having census holidays during the period of the count and it is meant to make the population to be as stable as possible since movements are minimised,” Mr Mwangi had said.

The disorganisation and poor communication was also evident on Wednesday, when KNBS cancelled a meeting they were to have with the Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) at the last minute with no explanation offered. The meeting was scheduled from 8.30am at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) and everything was on course until 8.16am when the bureau sent a message informing KEG of the cancellation.


The other controversy around this year’s census has been the budget. From Sh8.4 billion in 2009, the 2019 count is costing the taxpayer a cool Sh18.5 billion, which is more than twice the cost 10 years ago.

Regarding the budget, Mr Mwangi explained that the huge cost went to buying the devices that will be used by enumerators to input the data they collect. “In 2009, we did a paper census, meaning we were having a paper questionnaire that the enumerators would fill with the responses. This time, however, we are using a mobile device to capture data,” said Mr Mwangi.

According to the KNBS boss, the cost of acquisition of the devices is normally high.

“But if you look at it in the medium and long-term, these devices will be used in carrying out other activities of the government like field surveys that we will be carrying out as we move forward,” he said.

Mr Mwangi also defended the budget, saying the Sh18.5 billion is a five-year budget from 2015/2016, when KNBS started the process by conducting cartographic mapping of the whole country to come up with enumeration areas. It will cover up to the 2020/2021 financial year, he said.

“Much of the budget goes into paying allowances for the census personnel we have hired, including security,” he said.


The bureau has hired more than 163,000 census personnel comprising ICT supervisors, content supervisors and enumerators.

The use of technology in the census has also been controversial. Leaders from the North Eastern and those from central had clashed over the rumoured use of biometric system during the census. The north was opposed to it while central leaders were overwhelmingly in favour of a biometric system. KNBS later dropped the idea.

Adding to the problems KNBS has had are the logistical challenges during the training of enumerators that ended on August 20. By the time the training ended, the materials the enumerators were going to use, save for the electronic kits for inputting data, had not yet arrived. In some places the materials were being distributed on Thursday, two days after the training had ended. Also a cause for concern was the delay in paying all the enumerators their daily transport and lunch allowance during the training, which was set at Sh150 per day for seven days. In some places like Kahawa Wendani, enumerators camped at the venue of training until 9pm on Wednesday to be paid.

Like the Huduma Namba registration that bred suspicion with the government changing tune on whether the public would be denied any services should they miss to register in the exercise, the census has come with its own threats including a Sh100,000 fine or a year in jail for refusing to give details or giving false details.

A legal notice published in October 2018 on the exercise compels people to answer accurately to all the 36 details the enumerators would be asking, some of which many people may not be comfortable to disclose.


Although KNBS has repeatedly assured the public that the data will be kept confidential, the use of locals in the exercise may deter the free will to share certain details, presenting an odd scenario for families that may want to keep some details secret.

“Some of them may be your relatives or neighbours to whom you do not want to divulge your personal details which may be socially stigmatising,” said Irene, a civil servant who lives along Ngong Road.

Former National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, through Legal Notice No. 205 of October 31, 2018 published the sanctions that would be imposed anyone who discloses individual census data.

“Any person who discloses census information to another person without lawful authority; or fails to provide the required information, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to a fine not exceeding Sh100,000, or to both such fine and imprisonment,” reads the notice.