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Kenya's Voter Registration Falls Short of Target

  • Gabe Joselow

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s, IEBC, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Robert F. Godec, second right and British High Commissioner to Kenya, Christian Turner, second left, inside the voter registration centre in Thika Nairobi Kenya, Dec. 15, 2

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s, IEBC, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Robert F. Godec, second right and British High Commissioner to Kenya, Christian Turner, second left, inside the voter registration centre in Thika Nairobi Kenya, Dec. 15, 2

Tuesday is the deadline for Kenyans to register to vote in next year’s general elections, and it appears millions of eligible voters will be left out. Election advisers say the registration process has been compromised by disorganization at every step.

John Gitanga Onsango waited in line for more than an hour Tuesday to collect his national identification card at a pick-up point in the Starahe constituency of Nairobi. Only after he gets this card will he be able to register to vote, and time is running out.

“We are not going to beat the deadline of collection, so my advice is perhaps if the government can consider giving us more days for voter registration," Onsango said. "Because I’m very sure, if you’re seeing this queue by this time, believe me, not by five, still it’s getting worse."

Kenyans were in a rush to finish the registration process by the end of the day, in order to vote in the March 4, 2013 general election.

The country’s electoral commission, IEBC, had set a goal of registering 18 million voters, all of whom need new registration cards to participate in the coming election. By Sunday, a little more than 12 million people had completed the process.

The IEBC has ruled out extending the deadline.

The requirement that voters present national ID cards has been a major obstacle. Parliament approved a bill allowing voters to use temporary waiting cards instead, but President Mwai Kibaki never signed it into law.

David Saruni, the head of the district office in Starahe, says many people who applied for new identification cards have not collected them in time to register.

“The deadline for registration of voters is today, people are coming to pick, we’ve also had people not coming to pick their IDs, some also coming at the last minute; we have about 26,800 ID cards lying there,” Saruni said.

Willis Otieno, a program officer with the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, a group advising the Kenyan government in its election procedures, fears many citizens will be left out of the process.

“We’ll have a majority of Kenyans coming out to vote, but the electoral process will have left out a very big chunk of Kenyans who ought to have participated in the process," he said.

Otieno noted that in addition to those without ID cards, Kenyans in the diaspora and people in prison have also been unable to register, despite court cases challenging their exclusion.

Otieno said all of the state agencies involved in the elections share responsibility for the failures of the process, and that political parties have also not done enough to help people to register.

“The challenge with it is this -- that political parties who actually rely more on voters to come out and vote for them did not own the process as their own process," explained Otieno. "So you see, they’re the ones who will actually end up losing out when the actual figures come out.”

Voting registration has been particularly low in Rift Valley, which was at the center of some of the worst violence that followed the last presidential election in 2007, in which more than 1,100 people were killed across the country. Only 64 percent of eligible voters had registered in the province by Sunday.

Otieno and other observers say many could be staying away from the upcoming elections out of fear of a return to violence.
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