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Kiss the Bride, Mourn the Dead, Register to Vote in Kenya

  • Jill Craig

Officials from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) collect data from the electorate during the launch of the 2017 general elections voter registration exercise within Kibera slums in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Jan. 16, 2017.

As Kenya’s voter registration drive continues, leaders are proposing creative ways to encourage people to sign up, including having electoral officials set up facilities at weddings and funerals, and even denying churchgoers the Holy Communion.

Kenya’s electoral body says it is targeting about 9 million Kenyans over the age of 18 who have a national ID card or passport, but who have not yet registered to vote.

Spiritual and political leaders, among others, are coming up with innovative ways to increase those numbers.

Member of parliament for Kilifi county Gunga Mwinga recently proposed that the electoral commission begin registering voters at weddings, palm wine ceremonies, local drinking establishments and even funerals.

“Because these are places where people are,” said Mwinga.“They go there in large numbers. And they should be able to register a good number of people if they take the machines there, instead of somebody sitting in a school, where they will only register like three or five people in a day.”

FILE - A Kenyan woman leaves a voter registration center on the last day of the exercise in Nairobi.
FILE - A Kenyan woman leaves a voter registration center on the last day of the exercise in Nairobi.

Social gatherings

An electoral official from Kenya’s north coast says the commission supports the idea, and soon will begin registering voters at social gatherings.

Reverend Isaiah Njagi, an Anglican clergyman from Embu, has suggested non-registered voters be denied Holy Communion. He says Kenya’s Christian population needs to do more than just pray for good leaders.

“It is my personal view that people should be able to take voting as seriously as they take the doctrine of the church,” he said.

High court attorney and electoral expert Willis Otieno says these voter registration ideas are being conceived in political party strongholds, not battleground areas, in order to consolidate voting blocks.

“It is not about the universal registration, per se. It is about political camps bolstering their numbers,” said Otieno. “Because you know very well that once they register huge numbers in their strongholds, those strong numbers guarantee them votes in the general election.”

Driving registration

Even so, Otieno argues that high overall voter registration numbers will only help Kenya, come August elections.

"Look at what has happened in Gambia, for example, where part of the reason why the outgoing president has been challenging those results is that he is saying a huge number of potential voters did not participate in the elections," Otieno said. "Now, we do not want that kind of a scenario."

Otieno favors voter registration at social gatherings.

“In fact, if it was my wedding, I would make a formal announcement to all the guests to please make sure they register [to vote] as a wedding present to myself before they leave the wedding ceremony,” Otieno added.

Otieno, however, acknowledges private business owners and event organizers cannot be forced to allow electoral officials on their property.

After all, not everyone may want to combine his or her wedding registry with the voter registry.

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