Political parties target 2017 diaspora vote

President Uhuru Kenyatta addressing the German-Kenya Community Business Meeting at the German Chamber of Commerce in Berlin.Photo PSCU
President Uhuru Kenyatta addressing the German-Kenya Community Business Meeting at the German Chamber of Commerce in Berlin.Photo PSCU

Politicians are strategising to capture the diaspora vote — the 48th county — of around three million Kenyans abroad, most of them voting for the first time.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasises that the three million figure is an estimate but says the majority have attained the voting age. It is urging the diaspora population to register so their real numbers are known.

"For a long time we have been working with estimates, which has made it difficult to implement specific projects. You do not have to register with the embassies, you can also do it online," Foreign Affairs CS Amina Mohammed said earlier this week.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission says it will register diaspora voters during the next mass registration next February and March.

Everyone is encouraged to register, but there are likely to be requirements that Kenyans abroad hold valid visits.

According to the electoral body, it will set up polling centres in countries where there are at least 3,000 eligible Kenyan voters.

Last year, the IEBC launched an online system for mapping Kenyans living overseas so their number and location can be plotted.

Those registered will, however, only vote for the presidency and in future referendums.

On Thursday, while speaking to Kenyans in Germany, President Uhuru Kenyatta assured them they would vote in the next election on August 8, 2017.

He said the government will find the cash to finance registration of all eligible Kenyans as voters — domestically and abroad — ahead of the polls.

"I consider the diaspora as the 48th county and, like other Kenyans, they are shareholders in the country and have equal right to quality services, including facilitation to participate in the general elections," President Uhuru said.

He is the first Kenyan head of state to make an official visit to Berlin in two decades and met about 1,000 Kenyans living in Germany.

Kenyans at home and in the diaspora have equal rights to register as voters and participate in choosing their future leaders and this will be achieved, Uhuru said.

The President said the IEBC and National Treasury are discussing how to source the funds to finance election activities.

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During the 2013 general election, only diaspora Kenyans living in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi were allowed to vote, but only for President and Deputy President.

According to the IEBC, of the estimated 12,426 eligible voters in the East African Community region, 2,637 were registered voters and 2,328 turned up to vote.

This was an impressive 88 per cent voter turnout, higher than the national voter turnout of 86 per cent in the 2013 election.

In the 2013 elections, Cord Leader Raila Odinga bagged the majority of the small diaspora vote, with 1,224 voting in his favour, compared with 951 who voted for Uhuru.

With minimal change in the national voting numbers after the last, admittedly dismal turnout for registration ending March 15, Uhuru's and Raila's teams are devising ways to attract new voters.

The IEBC registered only 1.4 million voters, against the target of four million in the first phase.

Uhuru has ensured he meets Kenyans on all international trips he has made since taking office in April 2013.

His Jubilee coalition is planning a series of meetings in the US next month to popularise the Jubilee Party and encourage Kenyans living there to register as voters.

The meetings in the first week of May will be held in the cities of Boston, Atlanta, Minnesota and Dallas. They will be addressed by architects of the new Jubilee Party, led by Steering Committee co-chair Noah Wekesa.

Jubilee's US liaison officer Simon Kirubi told the Star on Thursday the meetings will offer political parties an opportunity to market their policies and mobilise resources.

"We are going to hold major meetings across the four cities so that officials have an opportunity to sell policies and the manifesto of the party,” Kirubi said.

The other co-chair Kiraitu Murungi was in London for business this week and met the Jubilee Party's liaison team about holding meeting in the UK later in the year.

Raila has also met Kenyans in his foreign trips over the last three years and urged them to register when the time comes, and vote for him.

The opposition leader is to travel to Germany this month where he will meet with Kenyans living there.

"You’re economically, socially and industrially very significant to the future of the Republic of Kenya. It's not just your money we need, it's your contribution, your participation and your commitment to the cause" — this has been Raila's message whenever he meets the diaspora.

Africa has the largest number of Kenyans living and working abroad, estimated at one million followed by Europe at around 400,000.

North America, including Canada, and Latin America, is said to have about 200,000 Kenyans. An estimated 150,000 of them live and work in the US.

The Middle East has about 80,000 Kenyans, more than half working and living in Dubai. An estimated 150,000 Kenyans live in Asia, the majority of them in China.

The Caribbean, Australia and New Zealand have a combined Kenyan population of about 50,000.

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