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

Beijing Warns Hong Kong Protesters, Cracks Down at Home

In suppressing protest news, China reportedly has arrested more than 20 people on the mainland who acted in support of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters More

Competing Goals Could Frustrate Efforts to Fight Islamic State

As alliances shift and countries re-define themselves, analysts say long-standing goals of some key players in Middle East may soon compete with Western goals More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid