News / Africa

Diaspora Kenyans, Unable to Vote Abroad, Feel Cheated

A boy enters an house with various campaign posters at the Kangemi slum in Kenya's capital Nairobi, February 28, 2013.
A boy enters an house with various campaign posters at the Kangemi slum in Kenya's capital Nairobi, February 28, 2013.
Reuters
Kenyans living abroad say they feel cheated about not being able to vote in Monday's closely contested election, even though the millions of dollars in remittances they send back home each year are a major fillip to east Africa's biggest economy.
    
There are an estimated 2.5 million Kenyans in the diaspora, many living in the United States and Britain, but also in Germany and Kenya's east African neighbors.
    
Kenya's government concluded in November that its citizens abroad would not be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote because of logistical and financial constraints impeding their registration in time for Monday's presidential election.
    
Justice Minister Eugene Wamalwa told parliament in November that voting outside of Kenya, allowed by a 2010 constitution, was "not practical'' for the moment given the challenges already facing electoral authorities in enrolling voters at home.
    
This was "like a slap in the face,'' said Erastus Mong'are, a Kenyan living in Delaware in the United States, where the biggest Kenyan community overseas numbers up to 400,000.
    
Kenya's March 4 vote will be one of the most closely watched in Africa after a tense campaign that has divided the nation and raised fears of a repeat of the bloodshed that followed disputed 2007 elections.
    
All the more reason why Kenyans overseas think they should have a say in it. The diaspora community sent home nearly $1.2 billion in remittances last year, according to the Central Bank of Kenya, up 31 percent from a year earlier.
    
Remittances rank as the fourth-largest source of foreign exchange in Kenya, after revenue from tea, horticulture and tourism, and the hard currency sent home offers much-needed support to the shilling against the dollar.

"People are disappointed because they wanted to participate,'' said Gakuru Macharia, secretary-general of the British branch of CORD, the alliance supporting Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who is a leading contender in Monday's election.

"Every year we are sending billions of Kenyan shillings to Kenya to support our families. The property boom that you see in Kenya is fuelled by Kenyans in the diaspora,'' Macharia said.
    
In recent years, following the new 2010 constitution that gave Kenyans abroad the right to vote for the first time, politicians like Odinga have made trips to court the diaspora, recognising their economic clout and ability to mobilise funds.
    
On the world's poorest continent, South Africa allows its citizens abroad to vote, but many African states find it hard to organise such external voting, even if they do permit it.
    
"Taxation without representation"

Kefa Otiso, president of the Ohio-based Kenyan Students and Scholars Association, said some diaspora members believed they were being kept from voting because politicians back home feared their independence and questions about graft and incompetence.

"Any time these people come out here they get some pretty tough questions from the diaspora about how the government is conducting itself, using resources,'' Otiso told Reuters.

"If you raise these questions at home, somebody can interfere with your bank loan, your salary,'' he added. "Many of us know that ideally people in power would like the diaspora to send money and keep quiet... We like to joke that it's a form of taxation without representation.''

Kenya's ambassador to the United States, Elkanah Odembo, said Kenyans in America had been keen to vote.

"In my travels around the country talking about this possibility, I sensed they were really excited,'' he said.
    
Odembo said overseas voters could have had an impact in a close election.

"The contested election of 2007 had a margin of just about 400,000. This is just [the number of] the U.S. diaspora. We're not talking about the other large diaspora in the U.K,'' he said.

Britain is home to an estimated 130,000 Kenyans.
    
Despite not being able to vote this time, Kenyans abroad have still played an active role in the campaign, by raising funds for candidates and sponsoring advertisements on Kenyan radio and television and in newspapers.

"What they're doing is encouraging their kin back home to vote for their candidates,'' said Macharia, adding a significant number had also gone back home to vote and monitor the polls.

But for those not able to travel, the sense of being left out of determining the country's future is strong and bitter.

"We're not being treated with respect,'' Otiso said.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs