We rely on a country’s census data for all sorts of decisions, including Western investment, and tend to assume that it is accurate.  But can we so sure?  Especially when the numbers have political and economic implications in societies which struggle with corruption.

New population census figures for Kenya have just been released, and they are causing a lot of controversy.  However, the Kenyan statistics bureau has defended the accuracy of the figures.

According to the BBC, the census found that the total population of the country is now 47.6 million, nine million more than in 2009. Yet, some regions have experienced a decrease in population, and some of the figures indicate questionably high gender imbalances.

Kenya's population is made up of various ethnic groups which are aligned to competing political parties.  The size of the local population has important implications for the level of government funding and representation a region, and thus ethnic group, receives.

Aden Duale, a politician who represents a constituency with a large Somali population argued, “This data, which was released this week, is false and not fit for purpose”.   

The census was carried out by officials who go door-to-door, recording information on electronic tablets, and then send the information to a central database.

Despite the overall population increase, Murungaru Kimani, a population expert and lecturer at the University of Nairobi, commented of the census that Kenyan women are having fewer babies:

“We’ve been seeing the fertility of Kenyan women declining since the 1980s. Forecasts from studies that we’ve carried out show that by 2050 a Kenyan woman will, on average, have two children in her lifetime,”

Census contention is common among some African countries.  Ethiopia has postponed its census twice since 2017 because of protests and ethnic violence.  Nigeria also has a long history of controversial censuses.  It was due to hold another one in 2016, but a lack of funds and logistical issues mean that it still hasn't happened.  Yet, Nigeria has the largest population in Africa, and is larger in area than France and Germany combined, so a significant part of the world map.  Many believe Nigeria has far fewer people than census numbers indicate due to various groups trying to gain greater political footholds over the years.  Could it be that Kenyan census data is also questionable?

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.

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Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...