MOMBASA — This week, nearly 1,000 Kenyan election commission officials received training in the use of new biometric voter registration kits. Biometric voter registration uses fingerprints and facial features to uniquely identify each voter. With only four months until elections, officials must work quickly. They face additional pressure in Coast Province, where a secessionist group has threatened to disrupt the voter registration effort.
In a beachside hotel north of Mombasa, 80 officers with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) spent one week learning to use the kits. Similar workshops were held around the country.
The kits were scheduled to arrive months ago from France but were delivered just last week. The delay has raised concern that there is not enough time to register Kenya's 22 million eligible voters.
Annahstacia Mutua, a regional elections coordinator in Coast Province, is undaunted.
"Of course there is enough time. When we start the registration, we are going to do it within only one month, then after that we'll do verification. We don't know yet how much time will be allocated for verification of the register, but we believe we have ample time," said she.
Next week, the newly trained officers will return home and share their knowledge with nearly 30,000 electoral clerks. Voter registration will begin after this final stage of training. Kenyan law requires that registration must conclude 60 days before the election, now scheduled for March 4th.
In Coast Province, the IEBC may face additional pressure from the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC). Leaders of the secessionist group are calling for a boycott of the general elections and threaten to disrupt IEBC's pre-election activities.
Mutua remains confident.
“I will confidently say that MRC is not really a threat when it comes to voter registration. I don't even think they have the capacity to disrupt the exercise and we are set. We'll put our people on the ground and we'll put the security measures on the ground and we will be able to carry on with our work,” said Mutua.
The MRC is currently suing the IEBC, claiming the commission does not have the legal authority to demarcate constituencies and wards in Coast Province. The MRC says the province was never legitimately incorporated into Kenya.