16 March 2017

Kenya: Electoral Body Taken to Court for Bias Against Diaspora Voters

The umbrella body for Kenyan associations in the diaspora has gone to court citing discrimination by the electoral commission over voter registration.

The Kenya Diaspora Alliance (KDA) filed a case in the High Court in Nairobi saying that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has not only disobeyed the 2015 court ruling that Kenyans abroad participate in the August 8, 2017 elections, but has cut short voter registration midway.

The KDA went to court after IEBC on March 8 stopped all forms of registration until September, including the diaspora registration that started on February 20. KDA chairman Shem Ochuodho, told The EastAfrican that it is against the constitutional provision that provides for continuous registration.

The case has been set for hearing on March 21 but Dr Ochodho said that the set date would be too late and they have lodged another motion for the case to be heard as a matter of urgency.

In their prayers, KDA has listed four grounds: First, that the IEBC has ignored both the ruling of the Supreme Court and the decision by the Joint Select Committee of parliament with regards to the Election Laws (Amendments), 2016 which expressly called for full participation of the diaspora in the 2017 election. Article 82 of the constitution requires the commission to progressively register citizens residing outside Kenya to allow them to vote.

Different rulesSecond, KDA says that IEBC turned away potential voters in Uganda who came with national IDs on the grounds that they didn't have passports.

"The Kenyan Constitution says that Kenyans can register using either ID or passport. Yet under the EAC rules, 99 per cent of Kenyans who go to Uganda use ID cards," said Dr Ochudho, whose KDA represents 41 diaspora associations.

The plaint drawn by advocate James Kounah and that also enjoins the attorney general as the respondent says that, "Most Kenyans in the diaspora who are holders of Kenyan national identity cards are citizens of this country and the denial of their right to be registered as voters and by implication the right to vote is bare faced discrimination as they are denied equal enjoyment of their fundamental rights and freedoms with the nationals who reside in Kenya."

Shortchanged on time The third prayer says that IEBC discriminated against citizens in the diaspora by giving them only two weeks to register while giving local voters one month in the just concluded mass registration. The fourth prayer is that IEBC should include more countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates where majority of Kenyan living abroad are. Dr Ochuodho says that while Kenyans living in South Africa were recently included in the list, the IEBC has placed the registration centre only in Pretoria and yet the majority of Kenyans live in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. In the 2013 elections, only 2,000 Kenyans living in Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Rwanda were registered and voted. However, IEBC chairman, Wafula Chebukati, told The EastAfrican that continuous registration has been going on in the constituencies according to the law but most Kenyans like doing things at the last minute. He maintained that the commission needs time to clean up the voter register and continuous registration will make it difficult to determine the number of registered voters by the time of elections.

"We have to obey the laws of the land but given the timelines that we are operating with, it is prudent that we do the right thing in order to have credible elections," said Mr Chebukati.

There are an estimated three million Kenyans living abroad with the majority of them in the US at 600,000 and about 300,000 in the UK. However, there is no reliable data on Kenyans living abroad with some of them not registered with Kenyan embassies and consulates there.

Since the introduction of multipartyism in 1991, Kenyans in the diaspora have lobbied to be allowed to vote. However, most political parties have not been keen on the diaspora vote because of the potential tilting of the scales either way.

The 2010 constitution allowed Kenyans in the diaspora to take part in all elections. In 2014, the government launched the Kenya Diaspora Policy in recognition of the need to include Kenyans living abroad in the national development process in line with Vision 2030.

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