Of course -a vote that counts, first has to be counted- but many a times, votes are counted that end up not counting at all. What am I saying? Pundits today are advancing an argument that in a number of regions, Africa being one of them, elections are never held, rather, what only takes place, is mere ethnic census. That, instead of people coming together to address pertinent issues at the ballot, they join their ethnic cocoons to prove that they have more numbers.
Today the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission continue to conduct the very last mass voter registration exercise pre elections -and Kenyans are keenly calculating the numbers, 201 days into the ethnic census -‘sorry’, into the elections. Whilst it is good practice for more and more individuals to air their voice through the ballot in a Democracy, Kenyans need to pause for a minute and reflect on this VOICE they intend to air at the August polls.
In her slightly more than 50 years of independence, Kenya has demonstrated only 4 times that people can come together to crystallize pertinent issues. These moments being; 1) During the 1963 elections, 2) During the struggle to return to multi-party system, 3) During the 2002 elections to dismember the status quo, 4) During the struggle for a new Constitution which was subjected to a referendum in 2010. In these instances, we have had 3 generations actively or passively involved. The first generation that fought for independence and later formed the independence government. The second generation that joined part of the first to fight for the return to multi-party system at the same time fighting for Constitutional reforms. And the third generation who, very few joined the struggle as students, a few who were able to vote in 2002 to dismember the status quo, and a sizeable number that voted in the 2010 Constitution. It is in this third generation that today we have the so called youth. Unfortunately, majority of whom who have never been involved in any serious mission to shape the destiny of Kenya -both in the past and present. It is this group -the youth- who today have the capacity to use the POWER of the VOTE to shape the destiny of Kenya. But are they planning to do so?
It is no secret that majority of those being affected by the mismanagement and misappropriation of public resources in the Kenya of today are the youth and women. As they, and future generations keep being pushed back into poverty. Many of whom are denied opportunities in sustainable employment, training, investment, saving and health. Unfortunately, at present, the same youth and women seem to have accepted the cult of incompetence to be the norm in Political leadership – always electing leadership (from top to bottom) that is not sensitive to their wishes and suffering.
Looking at vote patterns among the youth globally in the last few years, a mix of the patterns seem inevitable in Kenya this 2017. First, there is the usual ethnic vote, where politicians maximize by creating external enemies from other ethnic communities to convince their own to vote for them -not because they are the best qualified, but simply because the other from a different ethnicity should be disqualified.
Secondly, there is the protest vote. Where the masses are simply tired of lies, political mischief and incompetence among the elites. And so they vote them out of office as protest. The most famous example and recent one was when after the Democratic Party primaries in the US, the feeling that Bernie Sanders had been rigged out, made some of his supporters to vote for other party presidential candidates -including Trump! In Africa, a wave of one term presidents has started sweeping across the Continent due to protest votes.
Then definitely there will be cases of voter apathy. This will be due to lack of a motivational factors, both for or against. When the ‘what is at stake’ is not quite clear. A perfect instance is with the youth in the UK during their famous BREXIT referendum. Even though the two Kingdoms of England and Wales were for BREXIT as the other two, Scotland and Northern Ireland against, majority of youth across the board seemed to be against BREXIT. But with the very high levels of voter apathy among the youth, they were only left with the option of unsuccessfully starting an online petition to have a chance with a second referendum.
So which way Kenya?
2017 presents a very a unique case, especially for youth and women -both at the National level, and at the County level. More and more people, both in town centers and in the villages are in agreement that political stratification is not by ethnicity, rather, the real stratification is between those who have, and those who don’t. Between the so called those who COUNT and those to be COUNTED. This coupled with the very high levels of unemployment and underemployment, corruption, exclusion, high cost of doing business due to kick-backs at tendering processes, high unexplained national debt among others.
But in order to put things straight, one must vote. Not voting is never an option, since in case of an unfair election, ballots can be stuffed and your name stricken off on the register (in case of a manual process) , and you end up voting ‘in absentia’.
Therefore, if this generation wants to go down history as the generation that rejected corruption at the ballot, rejected ethnic prejudices at the ballot, rejected inequality and marginalization at the ballot, then the best opportunity presents itself at the August 2017 ballot.
Therefore, fellow youth, if you are eligible to register as a voter, kindly register, and make sure you participate in shaping the destiny of the Nation Kenya by voting in August 2017.
“To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.” Louis L’Amour.