The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Iebc Has Locked Out Five Million Voters

Voter registration exercise comes to an end today with consistent message from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) that there will be no extension after December 18th 2013.

If it were not for the delays in procurement of the BVR kits, Kenyans would have had 3 months to register as voters. Many Kenyans were made to believe that the BVR kits will work some magic in a month's time but be it as it were; over 5 million eligible voters are now being locked out.

In the manual voter registration conducted by the now defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) in the run up to 2003 and 2007 elections, Kenyans were able to register as voters anywhere and chose where they wanted to vote.

One would be excused to think that the BVR should have made registration and voting much more flexible as everything is done transparently and electronically.

On the eve of the voter registration deadline, slightly over 11 million Kenyans which translate to over 60% of the initial IEBC target had been registered as voters.

This falls way below the expected 18 million target and raises questions of why Kenyans are not willing to register as voters.

One of the biggest challenges reported in this month-long exercise is lack of National Identity Cards which is a mandatory requirement for of one to be registered.

The problems encountered by the people from Arid and Semi Arid areas in obtaining ID cards is well known and is a matter of public priority.

It is very difficult for young persons and women from the region to obtain these important documents to enable them register as voters and take part in the national political affairs of the country.

This problem is further compounded by the poor infrastructure and the nomadic nature of pastoralists which has affected the renewal of IDs from the old ones to the new generation IDs.

Increased participation of the pastoral communities particularly women in the national democratic processes in the country is important under the new constitutional dispensation and cannot be brushed aside.

So far, figures released by IEBC paints an ominous picture of the marginal number of registered voters in arid and semi-arid areas of Turkana, Marsabit, West Pokot, Garissa, Isiolo, Wajir and Elgeyo Marakwet.

The registration were asked to move with the BVR kits to watering points in an attempt to get more people registered but not much was forthcoming.

Arid and Semi Arid Northern Kenya regions have registered the lowest number of voters yet the 2010 census indicated a steady growth in the number of some ethnic communities from Northern Kenya.

The problem is not necessarily voter apathy but that the people have been disenfranchised over time. Women from the regions are particularly disadvantaged as citizenship must be linked to their husbands or fathers.

The result of this has been the chronic delay and outright denial of valuable documents to women in the region resulting in the denial of their right to participate in national democratic processes.

For Kenyans living and working in major towns, insisting that they register as voters in areas they work is subjugation of their democratic rights.

Consider Kenyans living and working in Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu and many others towns where majority of the residents in these towns are working population who normally register and vote in their rural homes.

With the voter registrations ending today, some Kenyans have been locked out not because they don't want to register but because they didn't have the time to travel home to register.

Things will get further complicated come March when the calendar year is actively running and the electorate is expected to vote.

With schools on and those employed just having resumed work after the December Holidays and the New Year break, the March elections will sure disfranchise many Kenyan voters.

One may then argue that why then not register in the town where you live and work? The answer is simple. I would wish to vote where my vote counts.

If I end up registering where I live and work and not where I call home, that means I may end up just voting for the president alone and thus underutilize my vote when there are other 5 positions that I would have influenced by casting my vote.

Let's remember that traditionally, people vote in their backyard and not where they work. President Kibaki has all along voted in Nyeri and the latest US election indicates that both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney voted in their home towns.

Why should we deny Kenyans a chance to vote where they think their vote will be counted? IEBC should now consider giving one more chance to all Kenyans till early January 2013 for those who want to register in their home towns to do so over the Christmas break.

The writer is Peace and Media Coordinator, Peace initiative Kenya project, International Rescue Committee- Kenya

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