DP William Ruto and ODM leader Raila Odinga.

DP William Ruto (left) and ODM leader Raila Odinga. Their battle for the few but potentially decisive diaspora votes has started.

| File | Nation Media Group

Small but potent: Ruto, Raila scramble for diaspora voters

The battle for the few but potentially decisive diaspora votes has started, with ODM leader Raila Odinga and his rival, Deputy President William Ruto, eyeing Kenya’s so-called 291st constituency that is only eligible to vote in presidential elections.

Mr Odinga threw another spanner in the works, demanding that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) register Kenyans as voters in all countries and not just a select few.

Speaking to diaspora Kenyans in a virtual meeting when he was in Dubai, Mr Odinga promised to continue pushing the Wafula Chebukati-led commission to make sure they vote in the 2022 polls.

“I have been a strong supporter of diaspora voting and there have been excuses here and there by the IEBC on why they have not been able to facilitate diaspora voting. We have petitioned IEBC to enable it this time around,” said Mr Odinga.

“Diaspora representation in Parliament and government is a must, hence there is no way we can keep leaving them out in this important exercise. IEBC should provide embassies and all our diplomatic missions across the world with facilities to (register voters) in January and February next year,” he added.

Presidential election

In 2017, Kenyans in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Africa participated in the presidential election. While the number of Kenyans living abroad could be negligible, the fact that they only vote for presidential candidates — who must garner 50 per cent plus one vote to win — makes them a potentially decisive group.

In September, Mr Chebukati disclosed that six more countries had met the minimum requirement of 3,000 voters and will be enlisted as polling centres, bringing the total to 11.

"The commission has added the United Arab Emirates, United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Qatar and South Sudan to the list of countries that will participate in next year's polls," he said.

The IEBC was expected to start registering Kenyans in the 11 countries this month. The listing would run for only 15 days even as Mr Odinga insisted that all countries should be included.

Important bloc

Dr Ruto, on the other hand, says the diaspora community is an important bloc that can no longer be ignored.

“We are collecting close to Sh400 billion every year in … remittances from abroad. We need to channel these resources well,” Dr Ruto said in November while touring Kisumu.

The DP held a conference with diaspora Kenyans earlier this year for Kenyans living in the United States. He also opened a United Democratic Alliance (UDA) office in the US.

Mr Odinga says Kenyans with dual citizenship are not barred from seeking elective seats and whenever they encounter any challenge, they should speak out.

Vision 2030 recognises the diaspora as an integral part of the socio-economic development agenda. The Constitution guarantees the diaspora socio-economic and political rights, and the diaspora policy of 2015 expresses the government's goal of incorporating Kenyans living overseas in national development and advancing Kenya’s diplomatic goals and engagements, he said.

Preach unity

Taking his Azimio la Umoja (quest for unity) campaign to the diaspora, the former premier also implored Kenyans abroad to help preach the gospel of unity into the 2022 elections.

In an apparent attack on Dr Ruto, he also urged them not to elect individuals who are pushing for change while also supporting the status quo.

“Some people have come out to champion for change but they have been supporting the status quo. For us, we have been very consistent in our push for real change in this country and we will continue with it,” Mr Odinga said.

“Kenyans in the diaspora should get united and speak with one voice. We want change in Kenya, if we do not change, we will not be able to realise the dreams of the founding fathers of our nation for a prosperous country as stated in our national anthem.”

Mr Odinga also promised that his administration would ensure that all Kenyan embassies and consulates have the capacity to process passports.

Urging Kenyans abroad to help the country get investors, Mr Odinga said his government would eliminate bureaucratic hurdles that he blamed for the current investment deficit.

He also said he will push for reforms in the Judiciary and seal loopholes aiding corruption.

Kenyans frustrated

He also faulted government agencies such as the Kenya Revenue Authority and the Kenya Bureau of Standards for frustrating Kenyans abroad who want to import goods, noting that he would do away with the bureaucracy.

He also said the mistreatment of Kenyans in the Middle East and elsewhere will end if he is elected.

“Kenyans have died, beaten to death by their employers. Excuses are given that they suffered a heart attack. I detest the situation where our people are being treated as slaves in today’s world. We can stop it as a country,” he said.

Mr Odinga spoke about health and the burden of hospital bills, saying his administration would provide comprehensive health insurance for Kenyans with the government helping those who cannot afford to contribute.

Mr Odinga’s virtual meeting with diaspora Kenyans comes months after DP Ruto oversaw the opening of UDA offices in Seattle, US.

Dr Ruto said he will create a full-fledged ministry dedicated to diaspora matters because Kenyans abroad are key participants in the country's economy.


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