Fahamu (Oxford)

Kenya: Attempt to Suppress the Diaspora Vote

opinion

Democratic election is a game of numbers and, as things stand, Kenyans in the diaspora who would have been the proverbial swing voters in the March 4 election have effectively been disenfranchised for political reasons

My initial reaction to the puppet Kenyan Justice Minister and Sabatia MP Eugene Wamalwa's proclamation that the diaspora vote will be excluded from the ballot was muted disappointment, then reluctant acceptance of this edict. Justice minister Wamalwa last week told parliament that cabinet had passed a decree that it was "not practical" for diaspora voting because of the logistical, financial and time constraints on the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). All this despite the fact that parliament has already passed guidelines for the registration of voters in the diaspora and 47 Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits have already been dispatched to embassies in preparation for the general elections.

Granted the Kenyan government can always play the poverty and unpreparedness card to excuse their laxity on any issue of public concern and that the constitution is also framed vaguely on this issue stating that the right to vote will be progressively achieved. In other words it is at the discretion of the powers that may be, not a concluded right that they will grant despite the logistical odds.

Then a few days later the chairman of the IEBC Ahmed Isaack Hassan categorically challenged this claim asserting that the minister was stating the obvious challenges that facilitating diaspora voting would pose to IEBC. According to Hassan, the Justice Minister's proclamation was apparently a matter of opinion not policy. Mr. Hassan also avowed the independence of the IEBC in making decisions related to the electoral process. He later agreed with the cabinet decision, which sealed the fate of millions of diaspora voters.

Democratic election is a game of numbers and as it stands, the citizens in the diaspora would have been the proverbial swing voters if they voted in the March 4 election. The recently released polls by Infotrak show that two other presidential candidates Peter Kenneth and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have a stronger following in the diaspora, which complicates the electoral map for any would be aspirant. And with potentially over 3 million votes up for grabs, that could spell doom to Wamalwa and his cronies in the who believe they have a stranglehold on their various ethnic blocs. The obvious solution against this threat to their dominance in numbers locally is to suppress the diaspora vote. It's the oldest trick in the book.

Wamalwa was strategically placed in the justice docket to protect the interests of his cronies. He has singlehandedly mutilated the reforms that Kenyans voted for in the new constitution by watering down the Integrity Bill proposed by the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) , silenced the voice of the common mwanainchi by eliminating constitutionally guaranteed public participation during public appointments and excluding the requirement for wealth declaration measures that have paved the way for persons of questionable integrity holding public office (read as The Hague suspects Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto).

This voter suppression effort is another ploy to scuttle the democratic voice of the Kenyan people. While it is now clear that the diaspora will not participate in the 2013 election, this latest assault further reveals to Kenya who the true enemies of reform are. On March 4, 2013, if given the opportunity, let your vote be your stamp of disapproval against this new tide of voter suppression tactics.

Nathan Wangusi is a PhD candidate at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, in the United States of America.

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