Why marginalized communities are not enthusiastic about registering as voters

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By GERALD LEPARIYO

newsdesk@reporter.co.ke

The data released by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC showing that 825,145 new electors have been listed in the first week of the mass voter registration reveals a very worrying trend.

So far the IEBC data indicates that of the 825,145 new electors listed in the first week of the mass voter registration, Nairobi is leading with 95,966 ahead of Kiambu (61,541), Kilifi (38,339), Nakuru (35, 815) and Meru (33,285).

While the worst performing counties include Samburu that recorded 1,315 against a target of 7,187, representing only 18 per cent. Baringo follows with only 5,707 against a target of 17,690 (32 per cent)

Counties that registered the least number of voters are Lamu (2,169), Isiolo (2,243), Marsabit (2,722), Wajir (5,102) and Baringo (5,707).

Revelations that counties endowed with a lot of resources like Nairobi and Kiambu reported huge voter registration while marginalized ones like Samburu, Baringo and Wajir among others registered the least number of voters speaks volumes about how our electoral process is structured.

We know that both Baringo and Wajir and the other counties are not only recovering from the worst incidents of insecurity but are also currently facing the worst vagaries of hunger due to the prevailing drought.

Free, fair and democratic elections cannot thrive where people have no access to basic needs like food, water and security.

To them electing leaders and governments –both national and county-lose meaning when their expectations have not been met and this result in voter apathy.

Day-in-day-out the people of Baringo and Wajir among other marginalized areas in the country have never known peace. When they are not being terrorized by cattle-rustlers and terrorists, drought come to make their lives unbearable.

The fact that the number of 825,145 new electors listed in the first week of the mass voter registration is however below the weekly target of 1.4 million new voters the IEBC set for itself means even the electoral body used the wrong parameters to set the target.

Although its clear that the IEBC carried out awareness campaigns ahead of the mass voter registration, the fact that they have fallen short of their weekly target in week one calls for a review of the entire process.

While it is still very early to speculate on what could be the reasons behind the low voter registration in places like Samburu, Baringo, Lamu, Marsabit, Wajir and Isiolo, one thing is common in these counties: insecurity and the current drought ravaging parts of the country.

In Baringo one of the causes of insecurity there is cattle-rustling a perennial problem that has continued to revisit this region year-in-year-out. In places like Lamu and Wajir rampaging Al Shabaab militia have wreaked havoc in these areas leaving area residents devastated and living in fear.

Could these kind of security lapses be behind low voter registration in such areas? We must have a paradigm shift in the way we practice our politics if we want to the electorate to value democracy.

A democratic process cannot be deemed to be free and fair when there are glaring disparities at the start of an election process.

The value of good governance and leadership loses meaning if problems facing an electorate are not solved or minimized.

Then there’s also the issue of scaremongering by politicians from both Jubilee’s ruling coalition and the opposition.

In the recent past claims and counter-claims of vote rigging have continued to dominate the media scene. And they are coming from both sides of the political divide.

In his speech during the 2016 Jamhuri Day’s celebrations, President Uhuru Kenyatta claimed that foreign governments were using Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to fund the opposition to force a change of regime.

The chorus was taken over by the opposition who initiated claims that the Government wanted to rig the August 2017 elections through double registration of voters following the discovery that Cord co-principals Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka’s national identification cards had been used to register other voters in different parts of the country.

You cannot strengthen democracy through chest-thumping and scaremongering.

Maybe our politicians need to borrow a lesson from playwright Wole Soyinka’s play, The Lion and the Jewel on how to woo voters. While Soyinka play provides the best manual for courting a girl, the same can be applied in wooing voters.

One thing we have to remember is that political observers believe elections are won by men and women chiefly because most people vote against somebody rather than for somebody.

One person who summed up this well is Lord Acton when he said that ‘the one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the majority, or rather of that party, not always the majority, that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections. 

And this should serve as food for thought for our politicians as they continue to woo their supporters to list as voters.

GERALD LEPARIYO is the IIchamus community youth leader and a commentator on social issues.

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