Why We Must Keep Voting

‘I Will Never Vote Again’. This is the title of an article by Ferdinand Bada. As I read those five words I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was sad and disappointed and on the other, I was okay, just okay. It was to be expected. No surprise there. Voter apathy was not new after all.

I was sad and disappointed because immediately I thought of the suffrage movement in the United States and how many lost their lives trying to fight for that right to vote. The right to a voice and to have that voice heard. Surely this could not be the thanks that they deserve – “Thank you for demonstrating, for working tirelessly, for finally winning in the fight to have a say, but no thanks. We have bigger struggles now.”

Closer to home, in South Africa, former President Nelson Mandela described the voting by black South Africans after years of apartheid as the dawn of their freedom. At the time, voting was done for three days and the long queues were full of eager citizens waiting to make their voice heard. Francis X Clines, in his New York Times Article ‘The South African Vote: The Overview; After 300 Years Blacks Vote in South Africa’ paints a picture of the value attached to the vote. In that historic time, voters went to the polls in droves, the young clutching the elderly by the arms as the latter bore the strain that comes with age to cast their vote. Clines describes the turnout as being so unexpectedly large that the election officials were greatly overwhelmed.

Back home (in Kenya), history dictates a long struggle. At first it was the colonized seeking to be given a chance to be in control of their own lives as opposed to having their colonial masters call all the shots. Then came the clamour for transparency and a better system in the form of criticism of the government by the opposition. Once upon a time in this country, election matters were at the will of the President – who could call an election whenever he pleased. In that time, the system of voting that was used was the ‘mlolongo,’ where people would line up in different queues for the different candidates and the candidate with the longest queue would win – or so it was meant to be, but it was not. That is, if the candidate even made it to present their nomination papers, since that as well was an uphill task due to convenient disappearances.

Forget secret ballots where the votes would later be counted and the citizens have no other means of verifying whether indeed the announced results reflect the manner in which they voted; other than the electoral body in charge. The ‘mlolongo’ (line) system was one filled with outright thievery where people would see that for sure line A was longer than B, but somehow B was declared winner. Those were times in which the citizenry did not know that they could vote against the government – considering that for the longest time there was one party and one party only and the choice for the citizen was that party or that party.

Fast forward to 14 years ago, in 2003 when according to the Gallup International annual End of Year Survey, Kenyans were labeled the ‘most optimistic people in the world.’ This was the time that former President Daniel Arap Moi’s reign had come to an end and a new dawn was coming. Voting lines were so long, with people going against all odds (illness, age, the weather) to go vote; and then the gloom of 2007/2008 and the post election violence. Then 2013 and again here we are.

What is my point? It takes time. Change takes time. Growth has taken blood (figuratively and sadly literally), sweat and tears. Kenya has lived through what can easily be labeled some of the roughest times but it has managed to wade through those murky waters. And the only way that can continue is if we keep showing up. We must continue to vote. We must continue to line up, bear the cold or the heat and vote.

Look on the bright side, at that light, no matter how much darkness there is. More women got to power this time around, many young people ran for posts and some actually got voted in despite the odds, those that had tried to work or worked got voted back, those that had not done so well earlier or those that outrightly worked against their people got voted out.

The way I see it, boycotting the vote means allowing what we believe to be a bad system to beat us.  Imagine if Arsenal and Manchester United were up against each other and then one of the teams decides not to show up, easy win for the other. No? I mean, how else would we know that ‘Wenger must go?’

Hawa Gaya