Ethnic question in Kenya census stokes suspicions

Tue Aug 25, 2009 1:38pm GMT

By Helen Nyambura-Mwaura

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya kicked off a population census that includes asking people their ethnic group, a thorny issue in an east African nation that was polarised by post-election tribal violence.

The region's biggest economy boasts more than 40 groups with distinct linguistic and cultural differences. They usually vote in blocs for politicians from their own communities, regardless of any ideological issues.

Analysts say the census that began late on Monday is an important tool for policy and planning. But they say that asking Kenyans to state their ethnicity comes too soon after last year's post-election turmoil, in which at least 1,300 people were killed.

"We still have a lot of healing and reconciliation to do," Peter Aling'o, executive director at the Institute of Education in Democracy, told Reuters.

"We've begun to chest-thump around ethnicity again, not remembering that that was the problem in our elections. I don't think we have learnt our lessons as Kenyans, we are burying our heads in the sand."

Rights groups say some smaller groups were not counted in the last census 10 years ago, meaning they then received less than their fair share of access to development resources or political representation.

For the Ogiek, a tiny group of forest-dwelling hunters and gathers numbering about 20,000 people, the census will ascertain their number and make them more visible to policymakers.

"It is a good thing for us because the government can now make better decisions about us," said Daniel Kobei, chairman of the Ogiek People's Development Programme.   Continued...

<p>An enumerator records details of a family participating in the national population census at the Kibera slum in Kenya's capital Nairobi, August 24, 2009. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya</p>
Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.