The 2019 Kenya population and housing census is coming in a few months, and the government has been in the preparation mode for the several years. One of the preparation steps has been acquisition of over 164,700 devices that will be used, as the census is said to be heavily depended on technology. The technology is expected to facilitate rapid transmission of data from the field to the central database, thus faster processing and release of census data. Kenya has always turned to technology to help streamline voting process and prevent cases of rigging, with Kenya’s elections being one of the most expensive in the world. However, that has not always turned to be effective, with cases of technology failure and incorrect use of technology due to insufficient skills being common.
What is at stake?
The census takes three stages; preparatory stage, actual enumeration, and the post enumeration stage. Of these, the actual enumeration is the one that involves many people, with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics planning to employ 164,000 people for the job, and the whole exercise costing KES 18.5 billion (USD 185 million). The objective is to deliver credible results which have been elusive in the past. Population numbers are used in revenue allocation and demarcation of electoral boundaries, a factor that could promote inflation of numbers to suit political interests. In the last census, there were allegations of exaggeration of numbers with one province recording a 178% growth in population within ten years.
As it happens with elections, majority of the short term contractors who are tasked with carrying out the process are usually teachers, and jobless youths. Teachers are distributed throughout the country, hence making it easy to reach even the remotest corners. As for jobless youths, they are everywhere in the country. Some are in temporary, low wage jobs, and a short term contract with the government that pays about KES 3000 (30 USD) per day is a good economic boost.
Most of these people may not have proficiency using computers, although they are computer literate. It takes more than learning how to use a computer to be a good user. Even new phones give us trouble in the first days, until we get used to them. Only a regular user of a device or a gadget can be proficient in using it. In this case, the devices that are to be used for the census will only be introduced to the enumerators a few days to the census, and they receive very little training before being declared fit to conduct the census. By the time the material day comes, some have forgotten the basics.
I have seen this happen several times. In the 2003 general elections, each polling station was equipped with a laptop and a fingerprint reader, which was meant to be the main mode of identification. During the training, polling clerks spent about 10 minutes each learning how to start the computer and identify a user, without being given a chance to do it individually as there was no database available to test. Come the election day, many had forgotten how to do it, and even the experienced presiding officers were at loss. The laptops were provided with two batteries which supposed to last for 12 hours, but these were ordinary laptop batteries which could do utmost 3.5 hours. In my station, the second battery was delivered without power, yet the polling station did not have electricity.
In the 2017 elections, I attended the training for the presiding officers, and while a lot of effort was put into training these people who would go and train the polling clerks, it was less than satisfactory. A good number of trainees were clearly not interested in the training, and were only there to receive their allowances. Some of them also showed up on the second day of the training, missing 50% of the training. I can safely assume that the polling clerks who were trained by these presiding officers got a raw deal. These went ahead to conduct the elections leading to delays in identifications, and the eventual collapse of the Electronic Voter Identification (EVID) and the Result Transmission and Presentation System (RTS).
In the upcoming Census, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics is banking on hand held electronic devices to record data. How successful this exercise will be I am not sure, especially if there is not manual back up. If the past experiences are anything to go by, we could have a crisis of enumerators who are poorly trained, hence unable to use the provided equipment properly. This would result in inconsistencies in the census results.
The most urgent step is to ensure that the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) has competent staff to conduct the census. This will involve thorough training, and ensuring that the every staff or enumerator has a good understanding of what is involved, and they have enough time to master the gadgets that will be used.
Adoption of eLearning platform can help develop skills and competence among the enumerators. This would best work by providing an eLearning platform with the relevant information needed for the job to anyone who wants to interview for the job, hence make them study in advance, and use the interview to gauge competence. This can then be supplemented with intensive training, using highly competent trainers and gauging the skills of the trainees afterwards. Therefore, I propose the development of enumerators training platform as early as now, so that the next five months will be used to train potential staff. Kenya needs to better the human resource factor in order have a successful census.