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2019 Census – can we reuse IEBC tablets?



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Keeping with the tradition, August 2019 will see Kenya carry out a population census. The previous 2009 census was also highly contested in courts, with various groups doubting some of the figures coming from the former North Eastern province.

Often, census figures can easily be disputed when cross-checked against other government data-sets like birth rates, school enrollment or even election voter registers.

Whereas there would be valid reasons for some inconsistencies across various data-sets, it should all be within acceptable confidence limits.

With the 2022 politics taking its premature shape, 2019 Census is likely to be more contentious and politicians are already calling for biometric-supported data capture to increase the reliability of the census results.

Kenyan politicians are quite a peculiar lot.

The 2017 general elections were budgeted for and dimensioned for biometric form of identification. A huge amount of taxpayer money was spent on procuring the biometric registration and identification systems.

More amounts were spend registering 19 million Kenyans using this biometric system. However, by the time the first election was held, the politicians had changed their mind and changed the law to allow for non-biometric form of identification.

By the time repeat presidential elections were held, the same politicians had made further changes to the law and technically gave IEBC the license to ignore all and any aspect of a technology within the electoral process.

The moral of the story is that Kenyans must be wary of sanctioning expensive technology systems that are used by politicians for ”tenderprenuering” purposes and subsequently disregarded before actual use.

Perhaps a compromise would be to find a way of sharing equipment between state agencies.

It is absurd that we shall spend a further Sh18 billion to buy tablets for enumerators during the 2019 census when the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) tablets used for voter registration idle away in some warehouses.

One reason for not re-purposing the IEBC tablets was that they always contained election related data.

However, in 2017 the IEBC tablets were reconfigured as a simple tool and had little or no local data on them. The voter registration and election data was transmitted and hosted in the various local and cloud servers.

It should therefore be easy to reconfigure the tablet with census software and deploy them for this purpose.

Another reason often given for not sharing voter equipment was court-related election petitions. However, with all the election related court cases over and done with, it will be interesting to hear why we cannot repurpose some of these IEBC tablets.

Furthermore, the capacity to deploy the 2017 election tablets in the 2022 election is highly doubtful – given the rapid change in technological developments where we are likely to vote using our mobile phones.

Let us re-purpose the IEBC tablets for use in the 2019 Census and save the taxpayer some money. After all, they are just idling somewhere waiting to be disposed off before the next election in 2002.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.