Kenya Prepares for First Paperless Census

The census will provide the first official snapshot of Kenya's demographics in a decade. Intersex persons will also be included for the first time in a move lauded by human rights organizations.

Kenya is preparing to hold its sixth population census since independence this weekend, with the aim of providing a clearer snapshot of the country's demographics and living conditions.

For the first time, data will be collected digitally on devices such as tablets instead of on paper, which authorities say will ensure greater privacy and faster processing.

Kenya will also become the first African nation to count intersex people, a move lauded as a step in the right direction by many Kenyan activists and human rights organizations.

Since 1969 Kenya has held a census once every ten years. The information is used to help determine resource allocation and development plans. This time, the Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) also wants to collect more data on the agriculture sector, which contributes to around a quarter of the country's GDP.

This year's census will be conducted from the evening of August 24 to August 31 and will be handled by the KNBS, involving a total of 138,572 enumerators 22,268 content supervisors and 2,467 ICT supervisors. The entire exercise is expected to cost 18.5 billion Kenyan shillings ($180 million, €162 million).

"To ensure there is enough security, every clerk who will be doing the counting will be accompanied by a security officer," Erastus Mbui, the Nakuru County Commissioner told DW. "On Saturday the 24th, all bars will be closed from 5 p.m. to enable people to go back to their homes to be counted while in their houses."

A major milestone for intersex Kenyans

The Kenyan government's decision to include an intersex category in the 2019 census aims to push back against discrimination. Intersex persons are recognized as a vulnerable and marginalized group in Kenya and often face challenges in accessing healthcare and education.

According to the United Nations, up to 1.7% of all children are born intersex, meaning that their reproductive organs, genitals, hormones or chromosomes do not fit the typical definition of male or female. Rights groups in Kenya estimate there are as many as 700,000 intersex people living among Kenya's population of 49 million. Many parents of intersex children in Kenya have surgery performed on their offspring at a young age. Many intersex adults claiming to have been scarred mentally and physically by such rushed operations.

Ryan Muiruri, who identifies as intersex, told DW he experiences discrimination regularly, partly because his documents identify him by his female birth name, Ruth Mwihaki Wangui.

"Every time I have to present my ID, it raises so many questions," he said. "Because when I reached the age of puberty, my body manifested itself and I became masculine. Now the document I have is not matching [my identity]... Many people are unable to bear that pressure so they opt to drop out from school, or even kill themselves."

Although he says the recognition of intersex persons In Kenya has come too late for those who have suffered, Muiruri is glad that he will now be able to access some government services.

"If only that slot which recognized me as I am was there, I believe I could have gotten more opportunities."

However, other countries who have included an intersex category in censuses have struggled to get reliable data. For example, Australia's 2016 census identified just 40 intersex people, though the actual number is estimated to be closer to 420,000.

Jedidah Waruhiu, a commissioner with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, says the government will now be able to collect vital data needed to improve planning and support programs for intersex persons.

"Their inherent dignity is now protected as intersex people because they are now recognized within our official national data of statistics," he told DW.

'The tyranny of numbers'

However, the Kenyan census has come under criticism for its approach towards the question of ethnicity. In 2009, initial results which indicated a population of 2.4 million Kenyan Somalis - making them one of the largest ethnic groups in the country - were disputed. The government initially invalidated the results, though the numbers were later confirmed by a court of law.

"In this country we have what is called the tyranny of numbers, meaning those whose communities are the largest in number dictates who should become president, who should become deputy and who should become the decision makers," attorney Alutalala Mukhwana told DW. "Therefore the fear of the general public is that the numbers obtained from the census may be doctored and manipulated so thatthose who have been perceived to be the biggest tribes in Kenya will continue to hold the top positions."

The Somali community has long been regarded as a marginalized group in Kenya. However, its growing numbers point to a potential shift in the country's political landscape.

"It would mean a change in politics because the larger the community, the more dominant the role they take in the leadership of this country," said Mukhwana.

The overall results of the census will also have a significant impact on the size and number of constituencies in Kenya - and therefore the possible outcome of the next general election.

Back in March, a group of political leaders - mostly from northern Kenya and pastoral areas - also refused to allow any alterations to the current electoral boundaries in light of the shifting demographics.

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