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Kenyans Wary as National Census Begins


Kenya begins its national census Monday night amid accusations of tribalism and lack of proper security. The census numbers are expected to show significant population growth in a nation that is already suffering from a lack of basic resources.

Kenya's population has risen by an estimated 10 million since the last census a decade ago, putting Kenya's total population near the 40 million mark.

The growth of the country's population is a cause of growing alarm within Kenya. Experts say the country's food, water, and power supplies are at emergency levels, due partly to a long-running regional drought and partly to the mismanagement of natural resources.

But the process of conducting a national census in Kenya is problematic in a country whose urban areas are dotted with informal settlements and whose rural areas are often populated heavily by nomadic herding tribes.

Adding to the census's obstacles is the migration that has taken place because of a severe drought that has driven many of the pastoralists to neighboring countries such as Uganda and Sudan. The government has engaged in community outreach efforts and promised food relief in an effort to entice the nomads to return to the border for the count.

The president has declared Tuesday a national holiday to help keep people in their homes while the count takes place.

Even in clear residential neighborhoods, though, the government might face serious difficulties. Many Kenyans say they will refuse to answer a knock on the door during census time for fear that criminals posing as census-takers will exploit the occasion to gain access to residences.

Some neighborhoods have demanded to meet their area's census workers beforehand so they can confidently let the canvassers into their homes. In other areas of the country, the census takers will be accompanied by village elders.

Internal Security Minister George Saitoti says that proper security is in place and that Kenyans should be re-assured of their safety.

"I wish to ensure Kenyans that we have taken appropriate security measures to ensure that both the census officials and the general public will be able to engage peacefully in the exercise of the census," said Saitoti.

The census process is also coming under fire from Kenyans who object to the questionnaire's tribe identification question. A group named Tribe Kenya, recently formed specifically to campaign against the tribal question in the census, is urging their fellow countrymen to reject tribalism and identify themselves solely as "Kenyan."

Kenya's politics is dominated by shifting tribal coalitions. The widespread violence that broke out following the flawed 2007 presidential elections was mostly targeted along tribal lines.

According to Dismas Mokua, a spokesman for Tribe Kenya, the group has held over a thousand townhall meetings across the country to promote its campaign. The group has succeeded in getting the government planning minister in charge of the census to announce that Kenyans can legally announce their tribal identity as "Kenyan" if they so wish.

Mokua says that while the group's census campaign might be mostly symbolic, the campaign represents a wider feeling among Kenyans who blame tribalism for the country's political problems.

"We think this is the first step towards breaking the cycle of tribalism in Kenya. We know it's going to be a tall order, that it's going to take a while before we can eradicate tribalism, but we are positive we have to begin somewhere," said Mokua.

Kenya is governed by a shaky coalition government formed to pull the country out of the chaos following the disputed presidential election.

It is estimated the census will cost the government nearly $100 million.


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