The acting US ambassador to Nairobi Robert Godcec recently said something that should worry all Kenyans and prompt them to start seeking serious and honest solutions before things get worse.
While responding to questions from a US Senate committee considering whether to approve his appointment, Mr Godcec said that the success of next year’s General Election in Kenya is “not assured.”
“The electoral commission faces major challenges getting ready for this election,” Mr Godcec told the committee. Some Kenyans may wish to dismiss or downplay the envoy’s assessment of the situation as ill-informed, but an audit of the on-going voter registration exercise reveals that the 2013 polls may fail to inspire confidence in the ballot process among Kenyans.
Enthusiasm among Kenyans towards voter registration since the exercise was launched on November 19 has been astonishingly low in comparison to how they responded to a similar exercise ahead of the 2010 constitutional referendum.
Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Isaack Hassan has always pointed out that; an election is only as credible as the register of voters— if the register is credible, the election would also likely be credible.
The question, therefore, is; with the low voter registration figures so far, are we Kenyans really serious about holding the first elections under the new constitution despite the high political stakes? Do we want our first government under the new beautiful constitution to be determined by a small number of voters?
The pragmatists may, in response to the foregoing questions, argue that democracy is like a free market where transactions are between willing buyers and willing sellers— the outcome of the March 4 polls will, hence, have to be determined by those who choose to register as voters and cast their ballots.
But the lingering question is; how credible and inspiring will the 2013 polls be if only a small number of eligible Kenyans ends up being the one to register and vote?
If the trend in the latest report by the Directorate of Voter Education and Partnerships of IEBC is anything to go by, then there are no prizes for guessing why Ambassador Godcec used the “not assured” phrase in reference to the success of the 2013 polls.
In this regard, there are legitimate reasons for Kenyans to get concerned about the possibility of a colourless and potentially disputable election outcome— all because people have shown the required interest in registering as voters.
The report shows how the biometric voter registration (BVR) kits were distributed across the country and the number of voters registered through those kits one week since the registration exercise kicked off.
It was obvious from the report that the voter registration kits were distributed according to traditional population density statistics— meaning that areas with high populations received more kits than those with low population.
When distributing the BVR kits, IEBC appears to have mapped out the country into 17 regions namely; Bungoma, Central Eastern, Central Rift, Garissa, Kakamega, Lower Eastern, Mandera/Wajir, Nairobi, North Coast, North Rift, Nyanza Central, Nyanza South, Nyeri, South Coast, South Rift, Thika and Upper Eastern.
In view of the foregoing zoning, the Upper Eastern region, which comprises the counties of Marsabit and Moyale, was allocated 169 kits compared with the Lower Eastern region that got 1139 kits. Nyeri, Thika and Kakamega got 690, 975 and 842 kits respectively, while Central Eastern, Central Rift and North Rift got 802, 1057 and 1590 kits respectively.
There is, therefore, no doubt that areas with high population got more kits based on the assumption that they would register more voters.
But the question is; did IEBC consider other extenuating factors, such as the geographical factor, when distributing the kits? This question is important because it helps us to respond to complaints from voters in geographically vast regions like Upper Eastern whose population, though small, is spread across thousands of square kilometres of tough terrain.
According to the suppliers of the BVR kits, each kit can be used to register about 50 voters a day. In this regard, taking into consideration the average output of each kit and the available infrastructure that enables people to get to registration centres, areas with a high concentration of people per square kilometre need fewer kits.
In this regard, could IEBC have erred in using the traditional population density patterns as a criterion to distribute the BVR kits? And even if population density was a justifiable criterion, why would Thika get more kits than Kakamega while the 2009 national census shows that the latter is the most populous county after Nairobi? Nairobi got 1457 kits.
From the report, Nyeri, with 690 kits, had registered the highest number of voters after one week with about 300,000 registered— on average, this means that each BVR kit in Nyeri region had been used to register about 400 voters.
On the other hand, Nyanza Central with 1055 kits had registered only 66,000 voters by the end of the first week since registration commenced— meaning that each BVR kit in Nyanza Central had been used to register only 63 voters in the first week of the registration exercise.
The same unsatisfactory trend applies to North Rift region which was allocated 1590 kits, the highest number of all regions, but had only registered 211,000 voters by the end of the first week— meaning that each kit had been used to register only 133 voters.
Whereas the figures are likely to change as the exercise progresses, the challenge goes to the IEBC and to us Kenyans. The electoral body may, on the basis of this report, wish to make some adjustments in the distribution of BVR kits to ensure that hardship areas like South Coast and Upper Eastern are assisted to ensure that registration centres are closer to the people than the case is right now.
One more thing about accountability— from the totals given in the report, IEBC distributed 14, 592 BVR kits, but we were told 15,000 were purchased and delivered by the supplier. So, where are 408 kits?
But the biggest challenge goes to the Kenyan people— we have to ask ourselves if we are really serious about the forthcoming elections, and if our collective answer is in the affirmative, then we must just get out and register as voters.
The writer is the CEO of the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance and Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM).