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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid