The front page of the midweek issue of SEARCHLIGHT (Feb.5) is dominated by shocking revelations of negative reactions to enumerators engaged to carry out the work of the National Census which began last year. The story does not indicate the scale on which these negative reactions took place, but they definitely do not augur well for the success of the Census.
For instance, the report reveals that “hostile attitudes” were exhibited by some householders when the enumerators tried to gather the information as according to their instructions. Enumerators complained of “indirect refusals”, including postponing pre-arranged interviews and then again postponing the pre-arranged date agreed upon by both parties. There were even instances where dogs belonging to the householder were let loose with one enumerator having to scale a wall for safety.
Given not just this lack of cooperation or indifference but what can only be construed as opposition to the work of the enumerators and tantamount to attempts to sabotage the Census operations, Census officials speaking on the programme Round Table Talk said that this behaviour has caused withdrawal of staff from the process. It has led to what they called a “significant reduction” in the number of enumerators thereby possibly jeopardizing the success of the venture.
It is not clear what are the underlying reasons for this behaviour on the part of those who exhibited it. Does it mean that those people do not understand the significance of the Census, in spite of the ads and public explanations in the media? Or does it spring from an inherent distrust of such official processes? Or is it that some people are just plain selfish?
Whatever the reason, the negative actions threaten to undermine the viability of the census process itself. Additionally, it must be borne in mind that the previous Census was riddled with problems which rendered it null and void. A repeat of this, even though for different reasons, has serious implications for national planning. One cannot plan properly or develop relevant programmes based on incomplete or incorrect data.
This is not just a problem for the Government, it is a national concern. We are not aware of what actions are planned by census authorities to address this problem but perhaps efforts can be made to draw in civil society organizations in the process of public education. For instance, there are two parties represented in the House of Assembly, can the active cooperation of both be solicited in persuading constituents of the importance of participation in the process and particularly in giving accurate information?
Similarly, the cooperation of churches and their pastors, and community and civic organizations of every type would also greatly assist the process. Even if the organizations are only prepared at this stage to make a declaration of support for the Census and an appeal for full public cooperation, then at least that may help.
Remember, whatever your grouse, the Census must become “WE TING”.