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PoliticsCensus in Ethiopia: A contentious undertaking  

Census in Ethiopia: A contentious undertaking  

Ethiopia, in its modern history, conducted some three national censuses. The first census was conducted back in 1984, during the military regime. Back then, the Census only covered 81 percent of the population of the country and the total number of the population was said to be around 34.5 million. At the time, the country was divided into 16 regions, two administrations of Addis Ababa &Asseb, 101 provinces (awrajas), 604 districts (woredas) and 819 urban centers. However, due to security reasons, the Census only covered 85 provinces, 441 districts and 668 urban centers. Yet, the 1984 Census was much inclusive than the previous ways of counting population



Marred by a more than usual controversy,the official preparations to conduct the fourth census kicked off almost three years ago, supposedlyto be held a year ago.Nevertheless, amid many external as well as internal factors, the Fourth Housing and Population Census was finally decided to be heldin April, 2019.

The preparation officially commenced in 2015 with a 3.5 billion Birr financing secured from both the Ethiopian government and donors. The Government of Ethiopia (GoE)established a commission,under Deputy Prime Minister DemekeMekonnenand BiratuYigezu, General Director of Central Statistics Agency (CSA), chairman and secretary, respectively, to spearhead the whole census operation. The Commission is composed of ministerial offices and regional states among others.

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Following this, for the first time in the country’s history, the fourth national census will see the deployment of digital technology, which led to the purchase of multimillion Birr worth of electronic equipment.

Mandated by CSA, the Public Procurement & Property Disposal Services (PPPDS) was assigned to conduct the procurement process. Taking its time, the Services announced an open international tender, inviting IT companies to supply tablet computers and power banks.

In this regard, the Services floated a tender to purchase 180,000 tablet computers and 126,000 power banks.It is to be recalled that, the procurement process, which took longer than expected, was shrouded with controversy. Bidding companies complained about alleged irregularities in the bid process.The controversies surrounding the bid pushed the original delivery of the equipment’s from May, 2017 by one more year. 

Finally, the bid wentin favor to two global IT equipment suppliers:Lenovo and Huawei.The two suppliers managed to win the bid to supply the equipment in which they agreed to deliver the equipment’s with a total cost of 665 million birr.

Moreover, ifit is not for the lengthy procurement process leading to the postponement of the originally thought November 2017 census, the widespread protests and conflicts in different parts of the country regions (especially in Oromia and Somali regional states) were also contributing factors to delay the census project.

Ethiopia, in its modern history, conducted some three national censuses. The first census was conducted back in 1984, during the military regime. Back then,the Census only covered 81 percent of the populationof the country and the total number of the population was said to be around 34.5 million people.

At the time, the country was divided into 16 regions, two administrations of Addis Ababa &Asseb, 101 provinces (awrajas), 604 districts (woredas) and 819 urban centers. However, due to security reasons, the census only covered 85 provinces, 441 districts and 668 urban centers.

Yet, the 1984 Census was much inclusive than the previous ways of counting population. The government, both the imperial and the military regime, have been using sample surveys to estimate the demographic surveys, where the first round was done in 1964/65 and continued till 1984. Over those twenty years, the country has conducted five surveys and used it as a source of demographic data.However, those surveys were not inclusive enough and most of the time did not include sedentary populations as well as those who live in rural areas.

Ethiopia has conducted its second and third population and housing census in 1994 and 2007. Basically, the current FDRE Constitution dictatescensus to be conducted every 10 years.

But following the 1994’s Census, the EPRDF-led government decided to conduct the third census in 2007. This was because of the pre and post 2005’s general election and the problems that followed, which led to the arrest of thousands of civilians and opposition political figures.

Back in 1994 and 2007, the total population of the country was 53.5million and 73.9 million, respectively.

Following another controversy filled 2007 Census,the results announced to the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR)was contentious at best.One was the error in counting the population in Afar and Somali Regional States, which was later recounted. This particular error was, in fact, admitted by the then commission. The second was the so called “the missing 2-3 million ethnically Amhara population,”the controversy surrounding it still continues.

During the 2007 Census, some ethnic groups which were recognized during the previous Censuses were omitted, such as Qimant.

Going into the latest Census, it too has already faced some major setbacks, particularly in delays.For the past three years, since 2015, the country was rocked by protests, ethnic conflicts and internal displacements.

Latest reports show that the number of IDPs in Ethiopia shows no improvement. A recent report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) indicated that the number of people internally displaced in Ethiopia has continued to grow over the past two months. The report shows that the figure has increased from two million to 2.33 million people. The report was compiled after the assessment of major internally displaced regions across the country, except BeinshangulGumuz and Southern Regional States.

Furthermore, the report indicates that “conflict” was the primary reason in most of the internal displacements, almost in all the regions. In this regard, conflict derived internal displacements has increased from 1.47 million to 1.77 million people over the past couple of months. To the contrary, climate induced displacements show a slight improvement declining from 531,001 to 498,417 people.

In addition to these, fresh displacements over the past weeks in Central Gondar,the Amhara Regional State, show that close to 45,000 people has additionally been displaced.

Many have concerns over IDPs affecting the census as well as the results of the census. And regional states–which will have a vital role in how the census will be conducted –share and reflect a number of these concerns.

In the official announcement of the date of the census, a couple of weeks ago, a number of issues and concerns were raised by regional states representatives, which is feared to create a future controversy and become a point of disagreement.

For instance, AsemahagnAseres, the communication head of the Amhara Regional State, raised his concerns regarding the process of counting during the census. 

“How can we check the enumerators who might intentionally feed the system a wrong data?” asked Asemahgen.

Moreover, a number of regional representatives aired their concerns regarding the security situation in some parts of the country.

On the other hand, a representative from the Oromia Regional State, also commented on whether there is any system to check if the data collected is true or not.

“Is there any system to avoid over or under estimations during the census?” asked an Official from the Oromia Communications Bureau.

Furthermore, a representative from Gambella also said that the dates of the census are not suitable to conduct in their region due to the rainy seasons.

“We will make sure that the internal displacement will not affect the census,”HailemariamTeklu, Population Statistics director at CSA, told The Reporter.

“We have mechanisms to avoid double counting as well as no counting because of Internal Displacement,” he said.

The Census is scheduled to be held in April, 2019, with close to 200,000 experts, supervisors and enumerators participating.

In addition to digital technologies being used, the upcoming census is unique in many ways. The most striking features are, unlike previous practices, ethnic and religious identification are not going to be compulsory in the upcoming census, according to sources at CSA.

Though CSA officials said this practice was not new,The Reporter has confirmed from multiple sources that the criterion where people were being forced to identify themselves with certain ethnic group was, in fact, compulsory in previous two censuses.

“In my experience, which includes participation in three national censuses, what I know is that, in both the 1995 and 2007 censuses, people had to identify themselves with a particular ethnic group or religion, somehow,” an expert with more than 30 years of work experience with CSA, told The Reporter.

“It was out of option, he said. Significant number of the population has to choose their ethnic identity or align with a particular ethnicity if they were to be registered.”

“And most of the time, minors will be registered using their father’s ethnic identity,” he added.

“Anyone who is, for instance, from a mixed ethnic background or born out of two ethnic groups can choose not to be identified by any particular ethnicity,” Biratu told The Reporter, a week ago.

“If someone said he/she does not belong to any of the ethnic groups or don’t want to be identified with a particular ethnicity,has the right to do so,” he added.

“Those with similar cases will be registered under the “Other or mixed Nationalities” category,” The Reporter has learnt.

It is known that issues concerning ethnic identifications have always been controversial over the years,especially when it comes to previous censuses.According to some commentators,ethnic identification is expected to trigger serious discourses that might have implications on the whole federal structure and constitution of the country.

In the past censuses, particularly since the coming to power of EPRDF in 1991, ethnic identification has always been at the core of the most vital registration and censuses.

In the upcoming census, new ethnic groups which have gained recognition by the House of Federation since the last census and similarly, more religious categories are to be included in the upcoming national census under their own category.

“If you see the demographic feature of Ethiopia,by my rough estimation, close to half of the population come from mixed parents with mixed ethnic group,” arguesYohannes Woldegebriel, a legal expert.

“For instance, if everyone with mixed identity decided to be registered under mixed ethnic category, what will be the place of this segment of population in the whole structure of the country?” he asks.“The population has not been given recognition in the Constitution of the country; they don’t have a region so the whole federal structure will be in question,” he argues.

“And this circumstance might give raise to a constitutional amendment or a change,” said Yohannes adding “When group classification on account of the ethnicity and religion of an individual is required on national identification cards, many argue that it will “force a person to be affiliated with a governmentally-defined group and expose persons to profiling and human rights abuses based upon their group identity. While in times of peace it might have little or no advantage, except for few ethnocrats supposedly representing the group.”

Yohannes in his commentary entitled “Popular trajectory of PM Abiy and the anachronistic constitutional challenges”says that “In times of crisis such classifications facilitate the targeting of persons on the basis of group affiliation, making individuals readily identifiable for possible attacks or other violations.”

Even if the government is now in a series of campaigns and meetings all over the country as part of its preparation to conduct the census, some groups are also calling for an extension of the upcoming census.

Just a week ago, a new political party; Amhara National Movement asked for an extension of the census.

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