It is your constitutional duty to protect votes and lived this period

Published first in the Sunday Standard, August 6, 2017

The helicopters have stopped flying. The music has stopped blaring at us and the rallies are no more. The time has come for us to be still, reflect and prepare to vote for the leaders we want to serve us for the next five years.

Against the clock and under difficult circumstances, political candidates, civic educators and journalists have crisscrossed all 47 counties looking for votes, informed voters and election stories. Some came to serve themselves, others to serve the public.

Their campaign trails have thrown up a dust of uncertainty and fear behind them. Anecdotal reports of working class voters leaving their homes for Western, Eastern and Mount Kenya counties and the middle class buying up the supermarkets do not reflect a confident people ready to elect their leaders.

The brazen night raid on NASA’s election coordination center on Friday contradicts the public assurance by the Interior Ministry and the IEBC that our public service and law enforcement machinery will not be used in the interests of Jubilee.

The seeds of a violently contested election result are sown in moments like these. They are also sown in the moment we discovered Chris Msando and Carol Nyandu had been killed.

Tragically, the IEBC ICT Director will not get to see our votes captured by the Kenya Integrated Elections Management Systems technology. As we head to the polls, their families and the families of others that have died in this election remain bereaved. May they have the courage to come out and vote on Tuesday. We on the other hand, must come out and vote in honor of all those that have died. The violence, bribery and rigging requires our personal response as fellow voters.

It is often said, without the darkness of night, we would never see the beauty of the stars. It is true with society also. The darker and bleaker it is, the more heroes and sheroes come into our view.

Last week, I interacted with forty young and old citizens under the #ResponseAble campaign. They spent five days in matatus across the hotspot counties of Kajiado and Nairobi talking to voters. Like other voter educators, their efforts are under-resourced and come late in the day.

93 % of 3,000 people they met are registered to vote suggesting we could see a high turnout on Tuesday. Many were not ready to vote effectively. Questions on whether the County Women’s Representative is the same as the National Assembly Women’s Representative (they are), how to fold the ballot paper to ensure no smudging, whether we need our voters card (only the ID or passport you are registered with is needed) and how to check their status (SMS 70000) were asked repeatedly.

There was outrage also at the death of Chris Msando and predictability of no closure on who and why he was killed (valid). Fear of violence (57%) and rigging (34%) tops their concerns. 96% found the matatu mjadalas (dialogues) useful and committed to come out and vote.

They further committed to act non-violently and report any election offences by both the state or communities. This type of civic education is a critical pre-condition for active citizenship, credible and peaceful elections.

The next few days are critical to credible and peaceful elections. In remains to be seen whether Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta will jointly attend the same Sunday mass service today.

The National Police Service must build liaison bridges and rules of engagement with community and party leaders, deploy women police officers as requested by women’s rights organisations and exercise reasonable restraint. No amount of military hardware can match civic-police trust and open relations.

The IEBC must assert its authority over this election and side-step any attempts of undue influence and intimidation. Community leaders and mediators must ready themselves to interrupt the outbreak of the senseless violence we saw in 2008.

We did it in 2013, we can do it again.

For those households writing evacuation or emergency shopping lists right now, my advice to you is, write another list as well. Write the list of the six candidates you will vote in. It is your constitutional obligation and the only practical way you will get the leaders and the future you deserve. For those of you who can do more, help others to vote and have their votes count.

Protect all our votes and lives over the coming week. See you at the polling station.

Irũngũ Houghton writes in a personal capacity. You can engage him on @irunguhoughton

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