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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid