Kenyans abroad have snubbed an invitation by the electoral commission to take part in a survey that would make it possible for them to vote in 2017.
According to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), only 198 out of three million Kenyans in the Diaspora had responded to an online mapping campaign launched four months ago.
Some have questioned why the commission was asking them to register their passport details and declare how long they have lived in their host countries. Others criticised the commission for coming up with its mapping technology instead of using one that has been developed by Kenyans in the diaspora.
The reluctance to register their details exposes potential immigration challenges facing many Kenyans living in foreign countries. Some may have overstayed and could be surviving on expired visas and fear being deported if they share their passport details and immigration details.
Although the response has been poor, IEBC Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba said feedback had been received from 114 cities in 50 countries. Only 31 Kenyans from New York had responded, while London only registered eight. Pretoria had seven while Lagos and Melbourne had five each and Dubai, Johannesburg and Seoul four each.
“We have tried to make the survey as simple and easy to fill as possible. But a few Kenyans have written to us saying we should not be asking for details like passport numbers and expiry dates,” said Mr Chiloba.
IEBC launched the mapping programme to comply with a court ruling that ordered it to register Kenyans living abroad to participate in the country’s elections as envisaged in the Constitution.
On May 8, the Supreme Court ruled that every Kenyan, including those living abroad and those who enjoy dual citizenship, had a right to vote. The judges also ordered IEBC to set up voter registration centres abroad.
Although the Court of Appeal had ordered IEBC to register voters in the diaspora and allow them to vote for all the six elective positions, the Supreme Court last month allowed the commission to undertake progressive voter registration.
Yesterday, Mr Chiloba said: “It is prudent to collect data for logistics and planning before embarking on the actual voter registration. Real numbers and not projections are critical for such a programme.”
The IEBC boss said the commission must get reliable data from the start, otherwise it will be difficult to commit public finances when there is no clear direction where the effort should be placed.
WORRIED BY SLOW RESPONSE
Mr Chiloba said IEBC would continue to popularise the mapping and called on Kenyans abroad to take time to give the information that will help the commission serve them efficiently and effectively.
Chairman Issack Hassan said his team was worried by the slow response.
“We are very concerned about this matter and we have written to the ministry of foreign affairs to liaise with Kenyan embassies abroad to facilitate us with passport information of Kenyans living in those countries,” he said.
Mr Hassan also warned that it would be difficult for the commission to embark on budgetary planning for the diaspora voter registration without the data.
The commission’s director of legal affairs, Ms Praxedes Tororei, said IEBC was committed to the implementation of the Supreme Court ruling.
However, the chairman of the Kenya Diaspora Alliance, Dr Shem Ochuodho, accused IEBC of resorting to sideshows and fighting Kenyans abroad instead of implementing the court ruling.
“We are not surprised by what the commission is saying. Instead of cooperating with diaspora groups, they are busy fighting us,” he said in a telephone interview from his base in Juba. “We have launched an application called M-Kura and i-Vote, which was presented to Mr Ahmed Issack Hassan when he was in the US, but he showed no attention.”
He said the alliance — which took IEBC to court on the question of whether Kenyans abroad should vote — had formed four committees to work on diaspora voter registration and was targeting 1.5 million Kenyans.
In a letter to Mr Hassan, dated May 14, 2015, Mr Bernard Marasa, the group’s president in Baltimore, US, had asked the commission to use the technological innovations put in place by Kenyans abroad instead of initiating its own mapping programme.
ODM AND WIPER PROTESTS
“We commend the commission’s initiative to map the diaspora but encourage you to avoid reinventing the wheel and instead, consider utilising the technologies already available such as i-Vote — www.i-vote.net,” Mr Marasa had said in his letter.
On April 26, ODM and the Wiper Democratic Movement, protested after the government announced its intention to open more consulates in the US that would also serve as polling centres by Kenyans in 2017. The parties were wary that the consulates could be used to tilt the outcome of elections in favour of the governing Jubilee Alliance.
At the time, Mr Chiloba said IEBC had not been consulted over the decision.
And on May 29, Cord senators accused the government of interfering with the running of IEBC by advising it to open polling stations in the US. In a heated debate in the Senate, the lawmakers questioned the decision to open the six consulates, saying it went against the law establishing the electoral agency.
Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula (Ford Kenya) accused the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of trying to predetermine the outcome of the next elections by skewing positioning of voting centres.
While on a visit to the US in April, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed had told Kenyans that the government was in the process of opening five consulates across the US to serve them better and facilitate voting in the 2017 General Election. The consulates were to be opened in Dallas, Boston, Minneapolis, Chicago and Seattle.
Later the same month, the Kenyan ambassador to the US, Mr Robinson Githae, told a meeting in Maryland that the government had chosen Dallas, Texas, Boston, Massachusetts, Atlanta, Georgia, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Seattle and Washington to be polling centres for the next General Election.