Kenya’s High Court is scheduled to rule Monday whether citizens living outside the country can vote in the March 4 general elections next year.
An activist group, the Kenyan Diaspora Alliance has asked the court to force the nation’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to allow citizens abroad to register and vote in the election.
Shem Ochuodho, a former member of parliament who is co-convener of the Kenyan Diaspora Alliance, said the group wants the IEBC to make provisions for Kenyans living overseas to cast ballots through electronic voting.
“Going the litigation route was our last resort,” Ochuodho said. “We’ve tried to engage various arms of government to get them to realize the importance of [our vote]. But, we did realize that we weren’t making any progress. The IEBC did insist on the fact that provision cannot be made for Diasporas to participate in the election,” he added, saying that this position is a violation of overseas Kenyans’ constitutional rights."
Critics have said Ochuodho’s Diaspora Alliance filed its law suit before it had exhausted the negotiating process with the IEBC. One critic described the law suit as “washing country’s linen in public.”
Ochuodho said there appears to be mixed reaction towards the pronouncement of the critics.
According to Kenya’s Central Bank, citizens living abroad contributed about 7 billion Kenyan shillings ($82 million) to the economy in 2011. Ochuodho said the diaspora remittances strengthen the economy, which he said, is one of the reasons why the IEBC should ensure overseas Kenyans can vote.
But some undocumented Kenyans abroad have expressed concerns that an official list of overseas voters could be used by other countries to force their deportation.
“That obviously is an issue, particularly more for certain countries of domicile than for others,” said Ochuodho, adding that this could be more of a problem in less developed nations.
He also insisted that the constitution recognizes undocumented Kenyans abroad as citizens who should be able to vote.
“They are recognized as Kenyan citizens, and they have as much rights as any other to participate in the electoral process. So, it’s on that premise that we took this matter to court,” he said.