It has been a few days since the world ushered in a new year. For Kenya, it is not only a new year but also an election year. In August, the country goes to the polls to elect a new batch of leaders, but the road to the elections is in no way a smooth one. 2016, no doubt, ended with a bang in the country, with the Members of Parliament on the government’s side going to all lengths to pass amendments to the election laws set to govern the upcoming elections. For those in the opposition, the act was done in bad faith and was taken as a move aimed at rigging the election. They threatened to call for mass action should any amendments be made to the law, but later retracted their statement, which gave a chance for the second House, the Senate, to debate the law.
The use of the electronic system to conduct elections was recommended by the Kriegler Commission, which was set up to look into the 2007/2008 elections. The aim was to prevent irregularities and, consequently, disputes that have the potential of leading to the kind of violence that almost brought the country to its knees in 2007/2008, as its aftermath is still felt today. The bone of contention is whether the electoral commission could resort to the manual system, should the electronic system fail. Those for (the government) argued that in the 2013 election the electronic system failed and there was no reason to assume that the same would not happen. After days of debating a report by the Legal Affairs Committee and listening to stakeholders, such as the Council of Governors and the Human Rights Commission, the amendments were passed by the Senate and it is now up to the president to sign them into law or not.
It is, without a doubt, important to lay down the rules by which the elections should be governed. If followed, it means that parties become more accepting of the process and the results. However, the leaders seem to have missed the mark by channeling all of their attention towards drawing battle lines in the Houses, such as the National Assembly and Senate, with the two sides flexing their muscles and forgetting the common citizen. Energy has been spent on furthering party agendas, as opposed to development for the common man.
The key to peaceful elections is an educated electorate, one that understands the difference between politics and policy, and refuses to be used to fight a battle in which, ultimately, they are the loser, in a quest to get an individual into office. It is a pity that the president would call for a ban on international non-governmental organizations that would have engaged in civic education on the premise that they wanted to influence the election outcome. In a talk show hosted by NTV Kenya reporter Wallace Kantai, dubbed #TheYearWeWant, Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr. noted that it was the common man that rallied behind rich individuals who would bear little, if any, of the brunt of the violence. If the common man rallied behind the common man, then the cycle would stop. Having an educated electorate means that the voters understand they have the most to lose should violence erupt. Should the electorate refuse to be used to engage in violence, then those that lead them will have no choice but to recognize and accept that in an election, one wins and another loses.
A look at reports, videos, photographs, and a listen to proceedings of the cases against the president, his Deputy and the radio presenter Arap Sang at the International Criminal Court show that the youth were used to carry out acts of violence. Civic education is what opens the eyes of such youth to the fact that being paid once to wreak havoc is not the key to a better life. The notion that ‘our own represents us’ stands in the way of wise voting and is what leads to problems, should one’s own not clinch the seat.
It has been the norm for politicians to dish out money at political rallies, have food distributions during holidays, such as Christmas or Eid, or start projects close to election day in a bid to buy voters. Some actually end up being influenced by the same, without realizing that whatever is being dished out to them is actually money that they pay in the form of taxes and that in the long run, it is of no benefit to them.
How to deal with this: civic education.
Leaders expected to send messages of togetherness and unity have instead engaged in hate speech and divisive politics, and have had no action whatsoever taken against them. As recently as the 5th of January 2017, an audio recording of the majority leader in the National Assembly was aired on local television stations, in which he called for the barring of the registration of the Kamba people (a Bantu community) from registering as voters in Garissa (a majority Cushite area). Since political leaders have refused to uproot tribalism from the minds of those that they purport to lead, it is up to religious leaders, civil rights groups, and other educated voters to spread messages of peace and make their fellow citizens understand what exactly the right to vote is.
All in all, the answer lies in the common man fighting for the good of the common man.