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Census Nightmares

It is 3am and I am still staring at the ceiling with no sign of sleep yet. As my thoughts lazily wallow in the dark, I suddenly remember the root of my anxiety. I have been having this feeling as long as I can remember. 24th is just hours away and I am not sure whether I am ready for the task that awaits me. There is this fear of the unknown that is paralyzing all my nerves. I now have all the reasons to worry about my role in the upcoming National Population and Housing Census… An enumerator’s role.

Even after undergoing rigorous training and the assurance from the government that all is set for our respective tasks, gaping loopholes in our country’s systems can not give me peace of mind. An inner voice constantly reminds me that anything can still happen to anyone during the said census night.

First is the security issue. Although the government has assured us that security has been beefed up in all parts of the country to ensure that the exercise goes on uninterrupted, the increased rates of insecurity, abductions and kidnappings in the country cannot go unmentioned. The country has experienced several cases of kidnappings in the recent cases, including police officers falling victims. Several police officers have been gunned down by unsuspected gangsters. Owing to this, many of us are not sure whether the assurance of security will be ensured. Also, bear in mind that almost three quarters of Nairobi is a slum…

The other issue that enumerators are likely to face is the challenge on cultural disparities. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) requires that every person in the Kenyan soil will be counted, including those living abroad and even one-day-old babies. The census will be done on a ‘de facto’ mode, that is, with reference to the night of 24th/25th August only. But this is bound to raise eyebrows on some cultures where the word ‘people’ is used only to refer to men. In the pokot community for instance, women and children cannot be counted because it is against their cultural traditions. Hence enumerators in such areas are likely to be met with hostility.

In addition, enumerators also face challenges in collecting data owing to the harsh economic conditions and the 2008 post election violence, which has made many people lose faith in the government. And this being a government exercise, many of the population have swore openly not to be counted, including the internally displaced. Besides the questionnaire having other sensitive questions like ‘What type of house do you live in?, Do you have relatives abroad?, Do they send you money?, How much per year and how do you use the money?’. Now you can be sure that as a respondent, these are some of the questions you can really be very uncomfortable answering them, especially on a night where, unfortunately, you slept hungry. But perhaps the big question that is likely to elicit bitter emotions is, ‘WHAT TRIBE ARE YOU?’

Kenya is a country that is still nursing wounds caused by the 2007 general elections and that led to post poll chaos with the tribe issue being at the core. As a result, more than 1000 people lost their lives and close to 500,000 people were displaced from their homes. As we speak, many are still living as IDPs in their own country. But one notable thing is that being ‘kenyan’ has also been enlisted as a tribe. If only many people can choose this ‘kenyan’ option as the answer to the above question, perhaps it can help bring about some healing.

Hence as the minutes tick away to the D-Day, I cannot stop thinking about the ‘what if’. I cannot keep myself away from the grave issues haunting my country and my fear of the unknown. Yes, I fear for myself. I fear for my country.


Nusrat Ara's picture

Dear Joannes do u know the

Dear Joannes

do u know the census people here won't be facing any of your problems. But since we have a basket of our own the census here is also very inaccurate in every respect.

It is all same everywhere :).

Don't lose faith just do your best.



Joannes's picture



Our case is a complete opposite. We are faced with so many challenges as enumerators in a country where insecurity reigns. May we have peace.



We Can Do It!

Terry's picture

God is in Control

Hi Joanne,

Congratulations on the task ahead of you. I know there may be many things to be afraid of in our country but have faith, God is in control of this country. No matter how many things we see going wrong....there are many voices crying out to God day and night for the sake and on behalf of our country Kenya. There is still hope. Just go out there with a positive attitude. Your positive attitude will attract good results. I wish you all the best as you face the task ahead of you together with all your colleagues with whom you'll be carrying out the job with. May the Lord protect you and may you find favor as you go from house to house.



Terry Shiundu

Joannes's picture



I must admit that it has been a tough journey for us... but thank God we are half way through. The challenges were many ranging from lack of enough materials in the field to facing harsh respondents to the big issue of insecurity and to underpayment. But thriugh all these, we have managed to come out strong.

Thanks for your prayers.


We Can Do It!

Maria Cuellar's picture


Dear Joannes,

This is a powerful piece. It reminds us of how statistics are just hard, cold numbers, and many times they do not reflect the actual human situation they are trying to describe. I think it is very interesting that, for some tribes, they can only count men in the census because of cultural reasons. I always just assumed censuses were accurate, but that is clearly not the case. That just leads to not taking into account many people that are in poverty and that need help from the government.

Thanks for informing us about this.

Warm regards,

Joannes's picture

Government statistics


You are right. Many a times government statistics tend to be a mere formality to its population. They suffer credibility flaws and are far from accurate. It is interesting that in a country facing many other grave challenges, the government is not even asking any questions related on how we can tackle such challenges like food insecurity and IDPs in the country.

Thanks for your insights.



We Can Do It!

MOMSthatROCK's picture


Thanks for your eloquent perspective.

My daughter spent the month of June volunteering at an orphanage in Thika, Kenya, but towards the end of her stay learned of the IDP plight from a local that was working to bring food and aid on a weekly basis. Her impression was that there was an extreme need for humanitarian effort and relief related to the IDP's. Of course she left holding a huge place in her heart for these 20 girls she had grown close to but in her words, "they were fed and clothed and being taken care of . . . the IDP folks had nothing. THERE was a huge need." I think it helps the rest of the world to hear of these issues; it is so easy to otherwise be in denial.

All. Ways. Peace.

Anna Fermin and Becky Aud-Jennison

Joannes's picture



It is sad that the level of development in our country is so minimal such that any ordinary person do not even realize any form of growth. It is also sad that political bickering never stops despite grave conditions in our country, including the plight od IDPs. We pray that the government uses these statistics in making lives of ordinary Kenyans better... it is only a prayer..

Thanks for sharing.



We Can Do It!

lindalubin's picture


Oddly, I happen to read this at about 3 a.m. when I couldn't sleep. However, unlike the complex, and fearsome task that was keeping you awake, I did not have this weight on my shoulders. I sat and pondered your life, and the many challenges you and other women all over the world face every day. I read your journal entries and those of other VOF women, and I hear the fierce determination in your words: to speak the truth, to let the world know what is happening in your country. I thank you for doing this.
You are able to move beyond your own fear of personal safety to reflect on the fear of those around you. In this case, you understood and explained so well why many would fear the questions being posed in the census.


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