An effective census should inform strong economic policies

By Phyllis Wakiaga

As a critical national exercise, the on-going census should provide imperative data needed to formulate strong and long-lasting economic policies. Essentially, information gathered and documented from this exercise should enable us to come up with economic frameworks that outlast the typical 5-year election cycle.

Evidence-based decision-making is a globally recognized approach in the efficient management of a country’s resources. It is also a measuring stick on the progress of set economic targets, population growth and impact on the economy, as well as, political and social-cultural changes that have eventually shaped the trends of different demographics economy-wise.

Whilst this is the sixth national Census since independence, it is the first that the country has undertaken since the introduction of the devolved system of governance. Hence, in addition to providing key information on the above on a broader national level, this year’s Census will be pivotal in examining the extent to which fiscal and public policies are either catalyzing or impeding growth at the county level.

In order to chart an economically sustainable path forward for this country for the next 10 years and more, insights from census data analysis should be front and centre in national discussions, and more so, those between government and industry. Together we will need to review our policy development in light of the resulting information. For example, we have been talking about a demographic dividend that the country can take advantage of to boost its economy; but what is the status of this demographic? What is their level of education? What are their skills? Where are they? Can they access and afford basic necessities?

In addition to this, other crucial factors that will surface is, for instance, the understanding and use of technology by different demographics, the rate of its adoption in businesses and access to basic technology for everyday use. The data will also highlight factors around employment; what is the current status on the rate of unemployment? Where are the jobs? Are existing jobs stable?

If these numbers are to be considered in policy-development specifically with regard to economic sustainability, it could mean reviewing the current state of industry dispersion in the country and how it can be improved in the counties, in order to increase the number of households across the country that have stable incomes.

Statistics will also assist policy-makers to identify gaps in the value chain that have the great potential to boost our country’s competitiveness and grow our export markets.

Let’s say we analyze data from communities that successfully grow and sell fruits, and whether these activities provide consistent sources of income (as opposed to seasonal); vis-à-vis investors in the country (and beyond) specializing in fruit processing and value-addition.  We would then develop policy inroads, to encourage new factories to be set up in close proximity to these communities, thereby making it possible for strong linkages to be established.

Economic activities such as these have a multiplier effect on society. They are likely to spur the growth of other sectors that feed into them. Transfer and acquisition of new skills and technology will also take place as the demands of new jobs increase.

Census data will also shed light on existing businesses, especially Small and Medium Enterprises. It will drive a crucial conversation on the definitions and classifications of these businesses, their capacity to formalize, be productive and profitable. This will then form the basis of the institution of progressive and flexible policies that take into consideration unique challenges faced by SMEs, especially women-owned and led enterprises. It would create an opportunity to interrogate current approaches towards SMEs and subsequently, inform either a need to revise or bolster them with the future in mind.

The census is an opportunity for the country to pause, take a look back over the past 10 years and chart a way forward for the next 10 and more. It is an opportunity for us to drive issue-based national dialogue on development, decentralize habitual politicking and focus on socio-economic prosperity.

The Writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Representative for Kenya. She can be reached at ceo@kam.co.ke.

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