Registered As Voters or Not, Diaspora Kenyans Can Still Sway This Election
Diaspora Kenyans are “mad as hell”. They have been disenfranchised, suppressed, disinherited, disowned, bastardised, declared persona non grata and thrown under the bus by politicians and the IEBC.
Some have gone to court seeking to postpone the elections and or block validation of the national voter register until all eligible Kenyans are registered as voters.
Confidence in our judiciary aside, I am not a big fan of cheeky lawsuits. Those of us who live abroad, particularly in North America and Western Europe know that political battles must be won politically.
Forget the law, IEBC and the political class is using all manner of excuses to bar the Diaspora from the March elections. It is a political decision and political decisions must be countered politically.
Politicians and the IEBC claim it is “logistically” impossible for them to register three million Kenyans in the Diaspora. This is as pretentious as the recent display of amorphous unions and coalitions in Kenya this week.
Ironically, IEBC believes that it would be easier to register Kenyans electronically, yes electronically, in Samburu, Juba, Mbeya-Tanzania, Kivu- DRC, Bujumbura and Kigali than it would be in Washington, New York, London, Toronto, Berlin, Bonn, Sidney and such other technologically advanced centres.
The rationale behind IEBC’s argument does not add up. Surprisingly, IEBC has ignored an offer by Kenyans in the US who have proposed that they are ready and willing to pay for the registration exercises and volunteer as clerks. Who is fooling who here? Your guess is as good as mine.
The IEBC should have borrowed a leaf from other developing countries. Iraq, Mali and Senegal carried out successful exercises with their citizens in the Diaspora registering and voting at the embassies abroad.
A Senegalese acquaintance, Anne Marie Toure, who together with her husband worked as volunteer voting clerks at the Senegalese Embassy in Washington, DC affirms that this was the cheapest and most flawless exercise conducted by the Senegalese equivalent of the IEBC.
It was easy because their citizens abroad did not require facilitation to register and vote. All they wanted was an opportunity to vote and had no trouble driving for hours to the few polling centers in the US.
In spite of IEBC’s obstruction and efforts to gag and muzzle Diaspora voices, we can still sway this election. As a Kenyan who has lived in Washington, DC for the past 13 years, I can assert that Kenyans, more than the Senegalese or anyone else, are more in sync with politics back home.
Some monitor what is going on in Kenya more closely than Kenyans back home.Diaspora Kenyans have portrayed their love for the country in more ways than one.
It goes beyond sending remittances home. Imagine 3,000 Kenyans driving to Las Vegas from different US cities just to cheer the Kenyan team during the Rugby 7s.
Kenyans literally took over the stadium and the world took note. Las Vegas became an instant ‘Swahili nation’. If Kenyans could do whatever it took to cheer a Kenyan team, make no mistake they will go wherever they need to go to register and vote.
They will drive from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Los Angeles to register as voters if that is what it takes to give Kenya the leadership it deserves. Kenyans are go-getters and will do whatever it takes to play a role in shaping the destiny of the country.
The IEBC’s rationale for registering only those in neighboring East African countries is dishonest and disingenuous. The excuses given are lame.
With all due respect to Kenyans residing in other East African countries, Kenyans elsewhere feel that IEBC and the status quo in Nairobi is comfortable with them because they do not pose any tangible threat of upsetting the status quo.
Proximity to Kenya probably means that these ‘Diaspora’ Kenyans may not have embraced any ‘alien’ ideas or desire to do things differently.
The countries they live in are the same, if not worse than Kenya in terms of democracy and political participation. What different experience would a Kenyan living in Dar es Salaam, Kampala, Kinshasa, and Juba have learnt?
Is the tribal mindset of a Kenyan living in Entebbe, Uganda any different from one living in Machakos, Kenya? Is there a possibility that non-Kenyans in the EAC would register and actually vote as a Kenyan? Whose interest would this serve? Kenyans living in other East African countries could show solidarity with their brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world by refusing to register until all Kenyans are allowed to do so. Their participation would simply grant IEBC undue credibility and leverage to argue that even ‘Diaspora’ Kenyans voted.
Diaspora Kenyans must guard against being pitted against each other. Some Kenyans have made unflattering comments about Kenyans in the US.
Some have questioned why Kenyans in the US are the most vocal in demanding they be allowed to vote. The answer is simple. We live in a country that teaches you to fight for your rights and not to let up.
We have been accustomed to a system where you learn to strap on your boots and summon your greatest strengths in the face of adversity. If a Kenyan in Kuwait or China chooses to accept the status quo that is his or her problem. Diaspora Kenyans, particularly those in the US and Europe will not be silenced.
They have high stakes in Kenya; first as sons and daughters of Kenya as well as being investors. Sorry, Kenyans in the US have no intention to bury their heads in the sand and hope the problem will disappear. It is the American exceptionalism that has grown on the Kenyans and for which no apology is required.
Assume Diaspora Kenyans have lost the battle to IEBC. The electoral body however should not underestimate the resolve of this resilient group of Kenyan risk takers.
Some are professionals, others are hard working with one common denominator- Kenya. Bad policies at home played a big role in sending millions of Kenyans wandering around the world but now the Diaspora may be the unseen “fourth horse” in this election. You cannot just wish them away because they have the numbers, the knowledge and the means to affect this election in one way or another:
i) First, for those of us traveling home for Christmas, let us make sure we have registered in the numbers and if we can afford it go back in March and vote. Considering this may be just a small number, let us use our time wisely in Kenya. Ensure your family and friends and whoever else looks up to you for moral, financial or academic guidance registers to vote and if possible educate those who listen to you on the need for voting out the ‘tribe’ and the status quo.
ii) Once in Kenya, let us meet and chart out a strategy. Depending on the number of us traveling back home for Christmas, we can gather in Nairobi and lobby for absentee ballots to be mailed to us or accepted at the various embassies to cut on the expenses of having to go back in a few months.
iii) Third, for those Kenyans who are not going to Kenya this Christmas for one reason or another, we still hold a key element. These politicians are always here begging us for campaign money. Withhold the purse. Let this be a donor freeze of some sorts.
iv) Finally, we as the Diaspora have been taunting how much money we send home every year. For those in the US, UK and Canada for instance, setting aside 100, 200 dollars or more is not that hard. Obviously not all of Diaspora Kenyans support the same candidate but most agree that they would support candidates who are issue oriented. So far, there are only one or two candidates who are focused on issues and they are not part of recent deals based on tribal calculations.
If 50 per cent of the three million Diaspora Kenyans settled on one progressive, post tribe candidate and contributed 100 dollars each to that campaign, a whopping 150 million dollars (Sh12 billion) would be realised easily.
This would help build a massive movement of like-minded people, sponsor Diaspora candidates for various positions, establish an unbeatable campaign machine across the country and shake the status quo in Kenya with or without the Diaspora vote.
BY TIMOTHY KIBERIA
The writer is a Washington-based consultant on African politics ( Email:[email protected])