UBOS’s First Digital Census 2024 Unmasked

Census

When the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) placed an advert on its website seeking IT-skilled individuals to apply for enumeration and supervision roles in the national enumeration exercise running from May 9 to 19 via their portal, they were emphasizing the adoption of a digital approach to the 2024 census exercise. Although some experts were optimistic about this digital approach, many challenges have emerged that are as disappointing as they are disheartening, potentially even more severe than predicted. While the media has highlighted some anticipated shortcomings, this investigative account by our undercover journalist, who participated in the exercise as an enumerator, details other census issues that no Ugandan media has documented so far.

The exercise’s shortcomings can be classified into (1) the expected and normal—by Ugandan standards and given the country’s culture of performing below average—and (2) the grave—abnormal and sharply disappointing. The normal issues included poor time-keeping, inadequate meal reimbursements for the enumerators during their 9-day training period, poor payment systems (PAS), and a few mistakes here and there. The grave shortcomings, however, are the focus of this account.

Enumerator Training Process
The 9-day training exercise involved trainee-enumerators recording their particulars daily—Name, TIN, and NINs, and desired Enumeration Areas (EAs). The TIN was meant to facilitate e-payment, and the NIN was for correct identification. This information should have been universally shared with the UBOS data center, CAPI (Computer-Assisted Personal Interviewing, the tablet) distribution centers, and Division Headquarters, so there would be no need to repeat this process. However, this was not the case.

Handing Out CAPIs to Enumerators
After training, enumerators were handed CAPI units, comprising an Android tablet, three chargers, and a power bank, in exchange for their original national IDs, kept under UBOS custody until the end of the exercise when the CAPIs were returned. The CAPI device, designed for this exercise, contained census questionnaires and a mapping system showing enumerators their Enumeration Areas. It had 200GB of internet data and UGX 20,000, whose purpose in the exercise was never disclosed.

The distribution of these units was far from smooth. Enumerators who trained in centers outside their designated EAs had to locate the specific areas to receive the CAPIs. These places were mostly schools, and hundreds of enumerators flooded such locations. Despite numerous registrations of enumerators’ particulars, it was common for names to be missing from lists, requiring assistance from often busy or agitated officials. Enumerators had to write their particulars multiple times, even though this information was previously captured during training, causing the distribution process to drag on for more than a day. The simultaneous registration exercises caused confusion, resulting in some enumerators being allocated distant EAs that they were unfamiliar with and unable to locate. By the end of May 9—the census night—everyone was having a headache.

The Dysfunctional CAPIs
12:00 am on May 9, the census night, was the reference point for all questions in the CAPI questionnaires. Respondents were to be asked: Where were you on Thursday at midnight? This night was also for enumerating the Floating and Accommodation populations—those in Hotels, Motels, Lodges, Camps, Apartments, Hostels, and other lodgings. However, most CAPIs failed to log in the details of the enumerators, essential for locating households in the EAs. Consequently, the Floating and Accommodation populations were not captured in many areas, making the census results unrealistic and false.

By Day 2, May 11, most CAPIs were still not functioning. Supervisors made futile attempts to rectify the situation, as this information should have been fed into the CAPI systems by the UBOS Central Data Office. On Day 3, May 12, a laughable method of enumeration without enumerators’ login details and mapping was communicated, frustrating the aim of obtaining accurate data. Enumerators risked forging information from households they did not actually enumerate, as the data sources were hard to trace without the mapping.

Undisclosed Payment Details
Enumerators went through the training process and almost half of the census exercise without information on their pay. They were only informed that training facilitation for the 9 days, as well as the official payment for the census exercise, would be provided. UBOS was tight-lipped about the figures. Enumerators hoped to use the training facilitation to cover transport and food costs during the exercise, as no food was provided for the 10-day census. However, by the close of the exercise, the anticipated training pay had not been made in many parts of the country. Enumerators worked on empty stomachs and had to cover long distances to and from their EAs, affecting their effectiveness. Many stopped working before the 10 days elapsed, leaving thousands of households unenumerated. It is safe to say that the data stored in UBOS coffers is sub-standard and not reflective of the population of Uganda and its characteristics.

Post Census
UBOS announced an extension of the census period on May 10 to cover the non-enumerated population. This was met with jeers and sneers from most enumerators, as seen in various WhatsApp platforms, due to non-payment. Enumerators were reluctant to continue without pay, and very few, if any, worked on the extra days. UBOS had stated that no additional pay would be provided for the extra days, and enumerators had not yet received any payment. So, where would they draw motivation?

After the exercise, UBOS asked enumerators to return their CAPI units in exchange for their IDs, a process still ongoing. Many enumerators are unwilling to comply, arguing that the CAPIs are the only collateral they have, and handing them in might mean they won’t receive their pay, later communicated to be UGX 500,000.

The questions in the questionnaires—especially about insurance policy, parentage, migrations, psychological health, household items, phones, internet usage, and whether Ugandans benefitted from government programs—were perceived as bogus and irritating. Enumerators faced the wrath of respondents infuriated by questions about government programs like NAADS and Emyooga. Combined with an empty stomach and other problems, this led to census data that is false and non-representative of Uganda’s population and characteristics.

But with all that said and discussed, the biggest questions on enumerators’ lips are: What is the fate of those CAPIs? Will they be stored in UBOS coffers until another ten years elapse? Is it possible they will be used in the NIRA National ID renewal process or during the 2026 elections? If not, will they disappear like the iron sheets in this country often do? And, where is our money?

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Picture of Mwesigwa Joshua
Mwesigwa Joshua
Mwesigwa Joshua Buxton is an artiste, humor columnist, strategist writer and journalist who draws inspiration from the works of Barbara Kimenye, Timothy Bukumunhe, and Tom Rush. He focuses on writing on entertainment. His background includes collaboration with the Eastern Voice FM newsroom.
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