Twist in tyranny of numbers as Northern Kenya to beat Mt Kenya


Kenya Nation Bureau of Statistics enumerators at Tuuti Sub-location in Kanduyi, Bungoma County in transferring data during the 2019 Population and Housing Census on August 28, 2019. 

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The population of Murang’a County, which stood at one million in 2020, is projected to rise to 1.3 million by 2045.
  • Mandera, which had a population of 887,280 in 2020, is projected to overtake Murang’a and record a population of 1.5 million in 2045.
  • Coast region, Kilifi, which had a population of 1.5 million in 2020, could also outpace Murang’a to attain a 2.2 million population by 2045.

Thirteen counties account for more than half of the projected six million increase in Kenya’s population in the next seven years, further deepening the scramble for resources and demarcation of new electoral units.

The 13 devolved units are Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Narok, Kakamega, Mombasa, Kilifi, Mandera, Wajir, Turkana, Uasin Gishu, Kajiado and Migori.

The new estimates for the next census suggest a population growth dip in the populous Mt Kenya and a surge in traditionally sparsely populated regions such as Northern Kenya.

This development adds a new twist to the clamour for distribution of resources majorly based on population.

For instance, the population of Murang’a County, which stood at one million in 2020, is projected to rise to 1.3 million by 2045.

In comparison, Mandera, which had a population of 887,280 in 2020, is projected to overtake Murang’a and record a population of 1.5 million in 2045.

In the Coast region, Kilifi, which had a population of 1.5 million in 2020, could also outpace Murang’a to attain a 2.2 million population by 2045.

Kwale’s population is projected to rise from 879,076 in 2020 to 1.5 million by 2045, overtaking Murang’a, Makueni and Siaya, each of which already had a figure of more than one million by 2020. Apart from cosmopolitan Kiambu and Meru in Mt Kenya East, Murang’a is the third most populous county in the region.

Collectively, the nine Mt Kenya counties account for 909,314 or 14 per cent of the projected growth in the country’s population.

The seven Rift counties take up 11 per cent of the additional population figures, or 706,799.

The five counties that make up Northern Kenya have 638,413 or 10 per cent of the growth figures, suggesting they are closing in on the densely populated regions and signalling an end to the tyranny of numbers in coming years.

With a population of 861,201 in 2020, Garissa is projected to have more than one million people in 2030, same as Wajir.

Wajir is among the six counties that are expected to record the highest percentage growth in population, according to Kenya’s population projections by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. The other five are Samburu, Tana River, Narok, Lamu and Turkana.

Between 2020 and 2045, Samburu’s population is projected to nearly double from 320,308 to 588,833.

A similar projection applies to Narok, whose population is estimated to increase to 2.1 million from 1.1 million in the same period.

From 946,464 to 1.6 million over the same period, Turkana joins this league of regions with projected fastest population growth.

These dynamics are expected to influence debate on allocation of resources, demarcation of electoral units and inform vote-hunting political strategies by politicians.

According to political analyst Steve Biko, in future elections, politicians will focus more on Northern Kenya because of the expected population rise.

“Assuming most of the residents will register as voters ahead of the 2032 General Election, politicians who have for long regarded counties in the Northern Kenya region as voter-scarce will have to change their minds. The regions will command a significant number of voters,” Mr Biko told the Saturday Nation.

“For long we have had some regions in the country commanding the highest numbers of voters, which led to the coining of the phrase ‘the tyranny of numbers’. But with the population projections, this is set to change significantly. The population changes will automatically bring an end to the tyranny of numbers by some regions,” argued Mr Biko, who is also a lawyer.

The phrase ‘tyranny of numbers’ crept into Kenya’s political discourse just before the 2013 General Election, in reference to the two-tribe dominance of the Mt Kenya and Rift Valley regions, which swept Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto to power in 2013 and 2017.

Dr Ruto inherited the Mt Kenya and Rift Valley bastions and ate into his rival Raila Odinga’s strongholds to win last year’s presidential vote.

The 10 Mt Kenya counties gave Dr Ruto nearly three million or 41 per cent of his total votes.

Taken together with the 1.6 million votes he garnered from the seven Rift counties, the two regions collectively handed Dr Ruto 4.5 million votes, which translated to 63 per cent of his total votes.

However, in absolute numbers, the nine counties of Mt Kenya will still be the most populous, with their population projected to increase from 9.2 million this year to 10 million by 2030.

The region’s two most populous counties — Kiambu (2.7 million this year) and Meru (1.6 million this year) — will by 2030 surge to three million and 1.8 million, respectively.

Only the larger Rift Valley, with far more counties (13), collectively estimated to have a population of 15.2 million by 2030, up from 13.3 million this year, could outpace central Kenya.

Nakuru, the most populous county in the Rift region, with an estimated population of 2.3 million currently, is projected to record 2.7 million by 2030.

With an additional 342,058 people, the county is expected to post the highest growth in the region.

Narok and Kajiado counties are also expected to record a significant population growth in the next seven years.

The two counties each had a population of 1.1 million in 2020, which is estimated to increase to 1.5 million by 2030.

The population of Nyanza is projected to peak at 7.5 million by the next census, up from 6.7 million this year, slightly higher than Western’s, whose tally is expected to be 5.9 million by 2030, up from 5.3 million this year.

In terms of numbers, the most populous regions — Nairobi City, Kiambu, Nakuru, Narok and Kakamega counties — are expected to have the highest increase.

The five most populous counties will cumulatively add 1,191,975 people to the country’s population by 2030.

According to Mr David Kimani, a governance expert, the five counties will be controlling huge amounts of money in national shareable revenue, own source as well as donor funding by 2030.

“Currently, population and land mass are key determinants of shareable revenue. If the formula for determining sharing of revenue does not change by 2030, the five counties will be the big boys, taking a huge share of the national cake,” said Mr Kimani. “The counties will also be controlling huge amounts in revenue collection and donor funding.”

Currently, Nairobi, Kiambu and Kakamega counties get the lion’s share of the equitable share of revenue disbursed to counties.

The allocation is based on the individual county’s geographical size, population, physical development and own source revenue performance.

The most populous county, Nairobi, is expected to record the fastest growth, adding 514,665 people in the next seven years to hit 5.2 million.

The population in the labour force (age 15-64 years) is expected to increase by 40.7 per cent from 28.8 million in 2020 to 40.5 million by 2035.

Data on household projections show that by 2030, there will be approximately 15.9 million households.

Nairobi City, which is entirely urban, will require nearly two million houses to host its population by 2030.