What you need to know:
- The potential new voters are either not excited about their civic obligations, or are too engrossed with other things to really care.
- Already some politicians have started accusing the IEBC of not providing enough biometric voter registration kits and favouring some regions.
Numbers and finances are probably the only things that matter to politicians while running for high office and right now, few of them can be quite comfortable with the trend of voter registration throughout the country; it is way below expectations. If the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) really expected to register six million new voters in one month -- a projection that was seemingly plucked from thin air -- then the auguries cannot be very promising.
By the end of the first week, only a tiny fraction had registered, which could mean that the potential new voters are either not excited about their civic obligations, or are too engrossed with other things to really care. If this trend continues, it could mean that by the end of the registration period, those politicians who were hoping to capitalise on the youthful voter turnout will be gnashing their teeth in frustration and seeking scapegoats which will inevitably turn out to be the IEBC.
Already some politicians have started accusing the IEBC of not providing enough biometric voter registration kits and favouring some regions with the few available, an accusation they can’t prove. But rather than go that route, they should be advised to find out why youths are so apathetic. Could it be that they do not see themselves as having any stake in any election outcome? Have they become jaded, seeing the same familiar faces trying to sell the same snake oil to them in copious torrents?
By this rate, next year’s election may boast the lowest turnout of any other since the restoration of multipartyism, and at the moment, there is no saying who will benefit from a low turnout. Whatever the case, it would be a fool who ignored the youth demographic that constitutes more than a third of the country’s population and the majority voters.
That is why politicians must do all they can to capture that vote. This, of course, explains why the two front-runners have geared their policy pronouncements towards enticing youth, one of them promising jobs, money at the grassroots and opportunities in their “hustles”, while the other wants to turn the country into a welfare state where unemployed youths will receive monthly stipends. Many of these promises are, of course, unrealistic, but as the saying goes, no one has ever won a maiden’s heart by telling the truth.
But all the politicians should be worried about one fact. Because everyone seems to believe the contenders will find it difficult to win the presidency without the Mt Kenya votes, they have tended to focus on that region. Yet, ironically, the area’s performance has been dismal: its youth simply won’t register to vote. By the end of last week, seven of the region’s eight counties trailed the rest of the country. By the time this piece was submitted, the figures for the second week had not been released, but any improvement is unlikely to be significant. Is this a sign of things to come?
So far, I have not come across any scientific analysis explaining this lassitude, but taking a cue from IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati, the apathy could be caused by insecurity in some areas, lack of identity cards, and the tendency of Kenyans to do things in the last minute. But while it is true that procrastination seems to be a national disease, the other two are not as convincing. In most areas, acquiring an ID is not as difficult as it used to be. Nor is the security situation bad everywhere. So why are the youth in central Kenya so reluctant to register?
Perhaps two things could be the real explanation. First, since Independence and until the early 1990s which marked the end of single-party rule, voters in this region never really had a choice on whom to vote for the presidency. They only started exercising that right three decades ago and then they were spoilt for choice because always they had “their man” to vote for.
In 1992, they split their votes between Mr Kenneth Matiba, Mr Mwai Kibaki, and a host of also-rans, allowing President Moi another five years. In 1997, they voted for Mr Kibaki but Moi again pulled a fast one on his opponents. In 2002, they had Mr Kibaki and Mr Uhuru Kenyatta to choose from and they chose Kibaki. Uhuru’s turn would come 10 years later, but now that he is exiting the scene, the general consensus is that another Kikuyu would be unacceptable to the rest of the country, and for the first time in decades, they do not have “mtu wetu” on the ballot.
The other reason is more generalised--acute disillusionment with the Jubilee government due to worsening economic conditions. The reason why Deputy President William Ruto’s bottom-up message has resonated with Mt Kenya youth is that he speaks to their unfulfilled expectations. Whether what he is telling them is realistic or not is another issue altogether. But certainly, for their own good, these youths must urgently snap out of this unwarranted sense of entitlement. Central Kenya is by no means the poorest region in this country.
Mr Ngwiri is consultant editor; [email protected]