Monday, April 27, 2015

Diaspora voting mechanisms should accommodate all Kenyans abroad

Joseph Lister Nyaringo's perspectives on how external voting will increase political participation and thereby contribute to political accountability for democratic development in Kenya....
Kenya’s Diaspora is huge. From those living in Uganda to those in Sydney, Monaco China, Qatar, Russia, South Sudan and Brazil. The fixation by media and the Kenyan government to Kenyans living only in the USA is not only wrong but also one-sided.

The more than 3 million Kenyans living abroad do not only come from the USA but from other parts of the world where they have spread their businesses wings, investments and expertise which is an advantage to the country.
That is why recent announcement by the government to zone 6 voting centres in the USA where majority of Kenyans live does not make sense. Any democratic government worth its weight in salt should focus to ensure that the highest percentage of Kenyans living abroad is given a chance to exercise their universal suffrage.

Exercising one’s democratic right in an election means that every vote must count. The government should not focus on big numbers a lot but ensure that even in countries where you will only find less than 20 Kenyans living there must be given a chance to vote.

After all, how will a Kenyan living in Alaska travel to Washington DC to vote? How about those living in Asia, Europe and South America; leave alone those living in Uganda and who may not have a chance to travel to Kenya during voting day? 

Remember, not all Kenyans will have the privilege to travel home during the electioneering period to cast their votes but all can be made possible by the IEBC because the body has the capacity to do so. 
If millions of Kenyans shillings were lost on fake BVR kits for the 2013 polls, why not start early since elections are 3 year away?

First of all, the best mode to accommodate voters living abroad is through e-voting since we live in the information age. To make this happen, the government through Dr Fred Matiangi, who is the Cabinet Secretary for ICT together with IEBC’s Issack Hassan, need to work mechanisms to ensure that Diaspora can vote electronically in 2017.

Focusing on 6 voting zones in the US; will only attract a poor voter turnout but will not cater for the democratic interests of other Kenyans scattered all over the globe. We even wonder how the government came up with the establishment of the 6 voting zones in the USA. We hope it’s not the work of the some dubious registered Diaspora organization purporting to speak on behalf of Kenyans living abroad!

Since the supreme law of the land allows Diaspora voting, the same should be applied to all citizens across the board irrespective of where they live. This is the surest way to avoid disenfranchising them on an important matter like the right to vote.

By the way, when did Ambassador Robinson Githae quit his diplomatic duties to join the IEBC? Note that it’s his office in Washington DC which announced the formation of 6 voting zones in the US.

If the IEBC wasn’t involved in these latest arrangements since it’s the only body mandated by the constitution to coordinate all matters related to elections in the country, then Githae’s announcement totally unconstitutional.

Who knows this is a conduit to pre-rig the 2017 polls using a diplomat who also doubles as a senior government civil servant serving as ambassador?

On voting rights for Kenyans living abroad, many developing democracies like Angola, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Ecuador and Iran have made it possible for their nationals residing abroad to vote.

Why not Kenya when we are actually a head in many fronts compared to the said countries?
It must be remembered that a well managed external voting despite accounting for a relatively low percentage of overall turnouts can have a considerable impact on election results. This is the true essence of democracy where every vote and every voice must count to define the leadership destiny of a country. 

IEBC should start an early head count of Kenyans living abroad and then map out proper online voting systems.

Kenyans living abroad are tired of being sanitized about the huge remittances they make to boost the exchequer. They need tangible mechanisms put in place to address their social and political interests in the land of their heritage.

Statistically, in the year 2014, diaspora remittance was Kshs. 122 billion. It’s projected that this will increase to Kshs. 245 billion in the year 2015. This isn’t mean business to the national economy from the Diaspora. And indeed, it should stir the current government to enact laws which caters for the interests of Kenyans living abroad.

Why not even the creation of a 48th County in the Country, a senatorial seat or even a constituency? Kenyans abroad need a say; a big say in the management of Kenya’s affairs. Currently, the Diaspora affairs are managed under a mere Directorate under Dr. Amina Mohamed’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This directorate has been accused of mismanagement of diaspora affairs and most recent during the just concluded Easter Conference. A full-fledged Ministry will be a step in the right direction to address Diaspora challenges in a more coordinated manner.

Finally, entrenching mechanisms for external voting will increase political participation and thereby contribute to political accountability for democratic development in Kenya. It’s also part of citizens’ rights in the quest for best leadership practices in a country where they derive their identity and national origin.