OPINION: Can IEBC foresee a voter apathy in 2022? Youths are tired of rhetorics
By Alex Owiti
It is now a wonder why IEBC registered low numbers of new voters against the expected 1.5 million voters the past week. But have we addressed the elephant in the room? The usual voter apathy.
The unforeseen voter apathy is eminent from the voter registration behaviour. 2022s elections will be the first one for many youths born from 2004, born after Kibaki got into power in 2002. The beginning of a new dawn after President Moi retired and decided to go home.
They experienced the best transition of power and came in the most development-oriented President-Kibaki-who restored the country's economy and socio-development.
However, as the journey begins for the 2022 elections, I'm not surprised by the low voter registration. Therefore, it should not be a surprise to IEBC, the government, and the political leadership.
When you watch news of the political campaigns of Raila Odinga and William Ruto, you see mammoth crowds turning up for the occasion. But this is not reflective of the voter registration exercise.
Are the youths turning up for these rallies because they are jobless, idle, and hungry and want some form of entertainment from politicians to forget their miseries? One would query or wonder!
I presume that the youth are now tired of the usual rhetoric, and they can see that those who are talking about new changes in the next government are billionaires and rich in any form of description. But how have they been coping for the last 10 years?
If we put our lenses closer to the current regime, they promised 500,000 jobs every year, yet half of those who used to be employed have been laid off. This is because of wrong fiscal policy decisions coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition, I wonder if devolution is a curse or a blessing to the youth. In my opinion, devolution has not yet realized its core mission or mandate because of poor leadership, especially in ensuring the youths get jobs and support their dreams in the informal sectors.
The Kenyan youth has taken an audit of all the government's promises before them and realized it's just rhetorics. Today, most governors who are the custodians of devolution are more affluent than those in the counties.
If we look at some of these counties, for instance, in the Nyanza region, sugar cane and fish farming have suffered from various issues. Sugar cane farming in Nyanza and Western regions is on their death beds because of bad leadership.
When you come to Rift Valley and Central regions, Tea and Coffee farming has had a fair number of issues, and this is only commercial agriculture that we are talking about. When you go to Maize, a staple crop for most farmers, bad prices and poor weather have been significant issues bedeviling some of these youths' farmers.
Tell me how this depressing youth will vote in the 2022 elections, yet those in power have been giving deaf years to the youth.
Today, most leaders have humbled themselves to come back to the ground and ask for the vote regardless of what they have not done for their people. Some are even serving tea and proverbially washing the feet of their disciples.
Do the political leaders think that the average Kenyan is a fool? I doubt not. You will be shocked this time. Many will not fall for failed promises and rhetorics, yet they need to feed their families and have a better environment for doing business. Today, Kenyans are the most taxed, and they are also paying the highest taxes on earth. A small business cannot survive in this depressed economy that the Covid-19 Pandemic has battered. Yet you want them to vote for you blindly.
I must also say that Parliament has been a flat-out failure to the youths. Once they have been elected and receive hefty salaries, good mortgages, and health insurance, they forget the plight of their people. They only push for bills that favour them and not that which helps the ordinary person.
For instance, they have not been able to push for bills that cushion the ordinary person from harsh economic realities. Fuel prices have been on the rise, and high taxes have been battering most businesses who in turn lay off their employees. Poor policies have seen a high increase in imports than local production. We import everything. Our health insurance (NHIF) cannot support the ordinary person from a terminal illness or even get certain medicines. It is fundraising every day and night, and it's a kitty that has been shrouded by corruption and mismanagement.
At the same time, IEBC has in the past suffered credibility issues. And as a result, confidence levels have gone down. Kenyans no longer perceive IEBC as an independent institution. They believe it's an appendage of some "ghost system" that decides who sits in power rather than their vote counting at the ballot.
According to SIPA, a Columbian Journal on international affairs, written by Daniel Assamah, an expert on African Studies and Shaoyu Yuan is the author of Panda Not Dragon African, youths are underrepresented in governance and their aspirational needs in areas like employment and education are often met with disappointments, as during the Arab Spring.
The journal also states that according to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation “about 60% of Africans, and especially youth, think that their governments are doing a very bad or a fairly bad job at addressing the needs of young people.” Some argue that the situation is more so one of voter apathy, rather than political apathy. For instance, South Africa’s 2019 presidential elections recorded the lowest number of youth voter turnout since 1999. Most of the youths chose to stay home on election day because they felt all the political parties were more or less the same.
It points out that some young people, including political activists, even refrain from participating in electoral processes because they believe African elections are not free and fair. For instance, Ugandan youths, despite their large population, perceive their influence on presidential elections compared to local elections to be quite minimal. This might explain their low turnout rate during presidential elections. What makes this issue critical for Africa is that by 2050 one-third of youths in the world will be Africans.
During this low registration moment, IEBC needs to demonstrate, promise, and reassure Kenyans of just, fair, and credible elections. That every vote cast on 9th August 2022 shall be reflective of their aspirations and ambitions.
An IDEA report quoted in the Columbian Journal indicates that at the institutional level, mandatory voting although controversial, will have a direct impact. Providing newly enfranchised young voters with a special rite of passage and/or other privileges could also incentivize them to come out to vote. Lastly, the voting system’s structure and process should be reformed in order to be more appealing to young people.
Our leaders also must demonstrate a sense of unity and avoid this ethnic balkanization that comes during elections. We are one country and not communities that come together during elections to take power.
Let our leaders not look at voters as pawn items and bridge to political leadership only to benefit themselves. A leader comes to serve rather than to enrich himself. Otherwise, if the youth don't see value in electing leaders who fight for their interests, they will not vote.
Servitude and selflessness should be the drive to want to be in a political position.
Therefore, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by human beings for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison people because they are different from others.
Alex Owiti is a Communication Consultant