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KENYA: The Unused Voices of Democracy

Morode
Posted April 4, 2017 from Kenya

Troubled by voting apathy among Kenyan youth,Morode makes a case for participation.

“I will not give up on my country, and I will not give up on its leadership.

Who is to blame when bad leaders are elected? The people who voted, the people who didn’t, or the democratic system itself?

This year, on 8 August, Kenyans will return to the polls to cast their votes for numerous government leaders, such as members of parliament, senators, and most importantly, the president. If the 2013 presidential elections are anything to go by, I expect at least eight candidates to run for our top seat, and each to promise an impressive array of development initiatives.

As of December 2016, however, less than 16 million of the over 25 million Kenyans eligible to vote are registered, leaving a gap of over 9 million potential voters.

Why have so many eligible citizens not registered to vote? I can’t speak for all the 9 million plus Kenyans who haven’t registered, but I can speak for one whom I know quite well—my sister.

My sister was not eligible to vote in the last election because she was still under 18. Now that she is eligible, though, she sees no point in voting.

Voter apathy is common in my sister’s age bracket (18-24 years of age). The young people in Kenya feel their views are simply not represented in government.

When I think about what the leadership of our country has been up to over the last five years, I can sympathize. To name a few examples:

In 2013, despite the fact that our politicians are already among the highest paid in the world, members of parliament hiked their salaries to approximately $10,000 per month within months of being elected. To add to this charming picture, over40% of Kenyans lived below the poverty line at the time, earning an average of $1,180 annually!

In 2015, investigations conducted by the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office revealed that officials of the independent regulatory agency responsible for carrying out elections in Kenya had pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

In 2016, $48,000,000 went missing from the Health Ministry, even while doctors were on strike over lack of pay and poor working conditions within state health facilities.

In 2017, doctors were jailed following a failure to reach consensus with the government over the strike.

You might think events such as these would fire up young individuals like my sister to register to vote in order to elect better leaders, but instead they have had the opposite effect on our youth.

“I feel like my vote won’t make a difference,” my sister told me. “The masses will always elect bad leaders.”

It hurts me to hear this from my sister and from the mouths of so many of her generation. I think of all the people who lost their lives in the name of the Republic of Kenya—people who died to ensure that we have a vote today.

I believe that voting is a privilege and a duty for every citizen. It is the difference between living in a democracy and in a dictatorship.

In a democracy, government is runbycitizensforcitizens. It is therefore our responsibility as citizens to help put the right leaders in place to work for—and not against—us.

That’s why I am determined to help my sister understand that if she doesn’t vote,she has no voice. If none of her friends or her friends’ friends vote, democracy in our country will slowly be silenced.

I do ask myself, though, how I can convince my sister to vote when I myself do not have full confidence in the Kenyan voting system.

Voting patterns in Kenya have traditionally been along tribal lines. Ethnic populations with the highest numbers carry the election, no matter the quality of the leader representing them.

However, I see this slowly changing, as millennials such as myself vote for good leadership rather than their own tribe. The more we do this, the more legitimacy we will bring to the system, which will in turn restore our faith in it.

A leader must have a number of positive traits, but I believe the four most important are:

  1. Integrity—doing the right thing, especially when no one is watching.
  2. Vision—making the lives of the voters better; for example, improving infrastructure or health facilities.
  3. Insight—understanding that their actions, or lack of action, have real consequences.
  4. Accountability—taking responsibility for their own actions.

It seems to me that many elected representatives in Kenya are missing these very traits, but that does not mean that other leaders with these traits aren’t out there.

I believe that my sister and her peers cannot afford to be apathetic. After all, they will soon have the power to successfully vote in the leaders they want. Even if the baby boomer generation continues to vote along ethnic lines, the next generation will eventually take over.

Here are the steps I suggest she and her peers take to get involved in their own governance and bring about change:

First, they need to find out who their representatives in local government are.

Second, they should acquaint themselves with the government’s budget and see what it spends on the services they make use of every day.

Third, they need to accept civic education as their obligation and teach the people around them what they learn.

Fourth—though this is seldom done today in Kenya—they should start organizing debates on social and political issues among their local leaders.

Finally, they must register to vote.

For me, voting will always be mandatory even if I don’t get the outcome I want or expect. I will not give up on my country, and I will not give up on its leadership.

Until all options are exhausted, I cannot say, “My vote won’t make a difference.”


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Comments 17

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Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
Apr 04, 2017
Apr 04, 2017

Hi Morode

It's very frustrating for many people especially the youth to have faith in our systems. This is mainly because they know whether they vote or not the incumbent will rig the election.

It is therefore our job to ensure that  we encourage them to register and vote because that is the only way we can have the change we want. We to make sure that the impact is felt when many of them turn  up and vote. 

You are doing a great job with the youth. Please keep us posted on the success of your project and the impact it has had on the youth. Stay blessed

Morode
Apr 19, 2017
Apr 19, 2017

Hello Mrs. Anita Muhanguzi,

In most African nations, elections have already been determined whether or not you vote, and growing up with that leaves the youth feeling helpless and can't make a difference. For me, that does not mean you give up, that means to me, we try harder making sure every eligible citizen not only have registered but also to show up and vote! When has anything good come easy? 

I will definitely keep you updated... Also pray for us, elections are in August 2017.

Adanna
Apr 06, 2017
Apr 06, 2017

Dear Morode,

I can imagine your frustration by reading your article especially the part where you said "The young people in Kenya feel their views are simply not represented in government."

Nice steps you suggested. It is not enough to talk about how things are not working or the corruption in government.

The youths have to register to vote! 

Blessings,

Adanna

Morode
Apr 19, 2017
Apr 19, 2017

Thank you Adanna,

For me, it is never enough to say "It won't make a difference." Tell that to each grain of sand on the beach... lol... There is always something to be done.

Thanks for the encouragement.

Rachel
Apr 13, 2017
Apr 13, 2017

Dear Morode, 

I feel the reverberations of your story all the way here in the United States. Young people here, too, are apathetic about the integrity of the political process– feeling like their vote doesn't matter and their views are not represented in politics particularly among young disenfranchised people. And why wouldn't we? I think this last election in the U.S. was an example of just that. Young people did not turn out to vote, and those who did perhaps did not understand the political process or were apathetic as the result. And look where we ended up.

One word of hope, however: Women all over the world marched in the streets to protest the very unjust political nature of the democracy you describe. Democracy is a difficult balance, and we're still trying to figure it out here, too. But if the Million Women March did anything, it was to show that politics is not the only way we can make change–even though everything is political– and that the acts of ordinary people coming together can make a difference. 

Thank you for sharing your story and as women, we have to make our presence in this world count! We fought hard for that and should never take it for granted!

Peace and love,

Rachel

Morode
Apr 19, 2017
Apr 19, 2017

Hello Rachel,

I was actually tracking the results that day and could not believe what had just happened! But after the women's march, I felt relieved that I was not the only one who felt disappointed.

May I quote you on this "acts of ordinary people coming together can make a difference." I would love to post it on twitter and FB.

Thank you for sharing your views and as women, I agree we must never give up on the political process! 

Rachel
Apr 20, 2017
Apr 20, 2017

Hello Morode,

Yes, we are not alone! And you may absolutely quote me on that, thank you for asking. 

So honored to have read your story and cannot wait for more.

Peace and Love,

Rachel

Sister Zeph
Apr 14, 2017
Apr 14, 2017

My dear the views of young people in Pakistan are almost same like Kenya and your frustration is so natural, but as sister Anita said we have to keep going , we have to keep motivating our young people to register and to vote ,this is how real change can happen.

I really appreciate your hard work , thank you very much for the impact which you are making 

Morode
Apr 19, 2017
Apr 19, 2017

Thank Sister Zeph,

This is really interesting, could it be a generational habit if the age bracket behaves the same in different continents concerning voting???

You are right, we have to keep on motivating the younger generation!

Thank you for sharing what is happening in Pakistan...

WorldCare
Apr 16, 2017
Apr 16, 2017

Dear Morode, I am happy to read your very well written story. You are good at recognizing corruption in your government. This is a hard enemy to fight! But, you are on the right track: informing the younger people of their duty to vote, but first learning about the candidates and the budget, and forming debates between candidates. I am impressed with your 4-step plan of improving the voters' knowledge. I wish you well as you go forward to improve the voting rate, and informing others of their responsibility. 

Morode
Apr 19, 2017
Apr 19, 2017

Thank you so much for taking the time to read what is happening in Kenya regarding voter apathy... Yes, it is good to continuously inform as well as educate the next generation of leaders who will soon be the majority voters in the Kenyan democracy arena. 

Thank you for your encouragement.

Immaculate Amoit
Apr 20, 2017
Apr 20, 2017

Dada

I know how this feels as a Kenyan, Most of us are resigned as regards our politics but only if we vote in leaders and not tribes or party loyalty can we change this trends. We also need more women political leaders for a change of how things work.

Kudos dada for sharing this informative piece,

Kazi Nzuri endelea vivyo hivyo

Much love

Morode
Apr 20, 2017
Apr 20, 2017

Thank you Dada,

Immah you are preaching to the choir... I agree women need to be in more leadership roles... Thank you for the encouragement.. Its up to you and I to continue civic education to our peers who have refused to be involved in the democratic system.

Julia O
Apr 25, 2017
Apr 25, 2017

Dear Morode, 

I loved reading your thoughtful, thought provoking, and inspiring post. It made me pause and think multiple times because much of what you wrote about, particularly the apathy of your sister, are feelings I struggle with too, albeit to a lesser degree. I feel like I am a mix between you and your sister in that I almost always vote too but more recently, I have started to feel less and less optimistic about the power of politicians to actually change anything. No matter what party is running the show, it seems that elected politicians will break campaign promises and just disappoint me in other ways. I want to be hopeful about the future and I want to believe that real change can happen but sometimes it's hard to keep being hopeful. That said, I completely agree with you that not voting is the surest way to guarantee dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Even if I don't like the results of an election, I always still feel better for having voted. I loved reading your thoughts on this and hope to read more, especially as the Kenyan elections approach.

Thank you very much for sharing, and best wishes,

Julia

Morode
Apr 26, 2017
Apr 26, 2017

Hello Julia,

I understand how you feel... however, think of the time when women were not even allowed to be seen near a polling station... I don't want to go and relive that anytime in my life time. Although sometimes there is no choice that we would like, we still have to participate... If you can't influence the top choice, what about local leadership? 

Thank you for reading my story... and I never knew this problem was this wide spread... Maybe we as women need to sit down and draw a way forward! I am open for that!

Apr 26, 2017
Apr 26, 2017
This comment has been removed by the commenter or a moderator.
Julia O
Apr 28, 2017
Apr 28, 2017

Hi Memory,

Thank you for replying to my comment. Your message made me smile and gave me hope. Thank you for that :) You're totally right that thinking back to a time when women couldn't even vote is a good way to put the current situation in perspective. You're also right that local politics is another way to hope for/try to affect change. You're right that it's not just the top levels of government that are important.

I'd be open to sitting down with other women too! Too bad we don't live closer :)

All my best wishes,

Julia