CENSUS: Explaining the figures, the methods used

Enumerator collecting data using a census tablet which has eased census activities

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | As the country awaits the outcome of the 9th National Population Census, many Ugandans have been left asking many questions, especially regarding the importance and accuracy of the exercise.

The period set for the enumeration was extended from May 19 to May 25, to cater for areas where there were ‘unavoidable factors’ that delayed the start or progress.

At least 10 million people were not yet born while another, almost 10 million were less than 10 years when the last Uganda National Population and Housing Census was conducted, in 2014. While the younger population had to query the importance of the exercise because they were seeing it for the first time, other Ugandans were also seen wondering at the king of questions being asked, from mobile phones to computers and cars as well as the health conditions of household members, among others.

Others had to question why, with all the databases in the country, the government could not conduct a study of these to determine the national demographics.  Alternatives suggested include gathering data from health facilities, the Uganda Registration Services Bureau, and the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) among others.

Examining a physical headcount or door-to-door census exercise as opposed to alternatives shows that, for Uganda, a manual method is still the most convenient, or a hybrid one, featuring a mixture. Not all countries typically conduct censuses by manual headcount. While manual counting may still be used in some smaller or remote areas in several countries, most use a combination of methods. These may include surveys and questionnaires with households and individuals asking for information through paper or online forms.

The government also utilises administrative records of existing data, like population registers, tax records, and social security databases, or a sampling method where a small population is surveyed, and the results are used for conclusions on the larger population. The more technically advanced countries use digital tools like mobile apps, online platforms, or even social media to collect census data.

The data collected can be analyses and/or improved using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), especially on the distribution and demographic structure, and more recently, some countries are using machine learning algorithms to improve data quality, reduce errors, and fill in missing data.

The choice of methods depends on the country’s size, population density, and available resources, but many combine some or all of the methods to get the most accurate product.

However, the main method used in developed countries is mailing questionnaires to households because the statistics bureau has all addresses in their databases. “The Census Bureau has the address of every house or apartment or mobile home in the country but they don’t know who lives there… that’s what they’re trying to learn. You can fill out the paper form and mail it back in. Or you can go online and provide the information without using any paper or postage,” says Mark Daly, a US IT Expert and Family History Researcher.

It is therefore expected that will still rely more heavily on the door-to-door counting exercise, requiring the positivity of all, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBoS). This year’s Uganda NHPC exercise will also help to evaluate the performance of the third National Development Plan (NDP III) which comes to an end next month and help in the ongoing development and implementation of NDPIV.

It is also important to ensure accurate data is collected because it helps derive other national economic indicators. In 2022, population was one of the sources of contention between the government and the World Bank over Uganda’s attainment of indicators for a middle-income country. The national statistics showed a smaller population than that estimated by the World Bank, giving different per capita income figures, giving another reason to the World Bank to refute government assertion.

Uganda’s first population century was conducted in April 1911, to mainly determine the number and spread of the black populations by tribe, in the country. It returned a total of 2,462,469 people, 55 percent of them being women, while Baganda, Banyoro, Lango and Teso tribes accounted for half of the country’s black population, according to an issue by Ebifa mu Uganda, a local language newspaper.

Since then, as is the practice the world over, and as recommended by the United Nations, Uganda has carried out a national census around every 10 years. The most recent National Population and Housing Census in Uganda was conducted in 2014 and showed that there were 34.6 million people in the country, according to the records at the Uganda Bureau of Statistics.

Since then, it is estimated to have grown to just over 45 million by 2022, while the UN and the World put their estimates at more than 47 million people. Today, the world population clock, the Worldometer, which uses the UN and US estimation systems, puts the country’s population at 49.7 million people. The Clock, or Worldometer, appears to give updates on population changes every second and is credited as the world’s most accurate counter.

However, it updates its data annually (getting the estimate over the next 12 months) divides it by the number of seconds in a year, and a ticking clock is made. It does not tick every time a child is born a human dies or a migrant enters or leaves the country. Worldometer uses the estimated birthrates, child mortality rates, life expectancy, and migration figures picked from different sources to determine the population growth of a country.

The Australian Academy of Science says the Worldometer has an inaccuracy rate of 2-3 percent, making it the most reliable resource. To be more accurate, however, and to determine other factors like the welfare of the people, how and where they live, for better planning purposes, the country has to undertake the “very complex” exercise of counting the people within her borders.

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