First published Sunday Standard, July 30, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group
The General Elections are now less than 240 hours away. 92-year-old nationalist and writer Muthoni Likimani will be among 19 million eligible voters likely to make their way to the polling stations. She has voted in every Kenyan election since independence and vows to make her way there in a wheel chair if she is not able to walk and cast her vote. She will be among nine million young voters, a third of whom are voting for the first time. All their votes and indeed the foundation of our democracy, depends on how #ResponseAble our state, political class and citizens are this coming week.
Elections in Kenya generate the heat and expectation of a full-term human pregnancy and the campaigns are almost as long. Four concerns have driven this election for us. Will the electoral management systems deliver credible elections? Will the nation remain cohesive and non-violent? Will we elect leaders who are a match for the aspirations contained in chapter six of our constitution? Will we elect leaders who reflect the full diversity of our peoples and especially our women, youth and people with disabilities?
For the last year, political parties and citizens have thrown more clean and dirty legal punches at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission than a Floyd Mayweather heavyweight fight. Our courts have also become electoral arenas. We have discovered gaps in our laws that need closer interpretation and the IEBC has been forced to make institutional changes to retain the confidence of all the political players. The publishing of the voter register last week was a critical step in restoring the public confidence so lacking in 2013. The IEBC has also done better this year in communicating its preparedness and how voters need to prepare.
The lack of leadership integrity has brought us here also. One after another, the 80 or so candidates named by the #redcard campaign and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission have displayed the vice of corruption, hate-crimes and dishonesty over their academic qualifications. Next week, we must reject these tainted helicopter passengers who seek our vote to maintain their lucrative lifestyles and the grip of cartels over our country’s resources.
The race for 1,600 seats is also slowly locking out women, youthful leaders and people with disabilities despite their demographic majority as a bloc. Next week, there will be very few women on your ballot paper. Consider electing clean and inspired leaders that carry these constituencies. Inclusive politics is important if we are to keep our 47 million people engaged in public life.
Unresolved inequalities and violent conflicts are also at the source of our elections. 62% of the country’s wealth lies in the hands of 0.02% today. We have had 2,500 violent conflicts since the 1984 Wagalla massacre. Many of these historical and current injustices remain unaddressed. Violent outbreaks in Marsabit, Lamu, Kisumu, Siaya, Muranga and Kirinyaga have left many worried and intimidated. Our political candidates have done little to reduce temperatures and reduce the hate-speech and violence leaving it to religious, civil society, media and diplomatic leaders.
The National Government’s disruption of civic education in January has been costly and that price can be seen in the violence and uncertainty facing many voters today. However, with 240 hours to go, there is little value of going back there or anywhere else in the past for now. There is also little value in continuing the peaceful versus credible elections debate either. Rigging and violence are two sides of the same coin. Both betray the promise of free, fair and non-violent elections in Article 81 of our constitution.
What we must now practically understand are the eleven key electoral offences and the actions we can take to safeguard our leadership choices. We must record and generously share IEBC, Police, commissions, Witness Protection Agency, media news desks and our political party’s hotlines. We must also discourage voters from misdirecting any other frustration and outrage at other innocent voters. Exercising electoral choices requires us all, the public official, politicians and the voter to act #ResponseAbly.
This week, we must act to ensure that all eligible Kenyans vote, all votes are counted and all Kenyans remain safe. Only then will we honor Muthoni Likimani and the millions of others who have agitated for decades for our right to vote freely and safely.