Recently, I witnessed an elderly man being accosted and beaten up by people young enough to be his children.
His crime, you ask? Not possessing a voter’s card.
The zeal around voter registration is a good thing.
Like a journalist’s pen, a voter identification card is a powerful tool for the citizens to decide how they are governed.
I may not agree with the motive for the surge of the enthusiasm, for it seems driven by a desire to lock out some, and bring in others based purely on superficial factors such as tribe, clan and region rather than issues, merit and personal integrity, but I have utmost respect for the people’s right to vote whichever way they want.
It is, however, regrettable that certain individuals and groups are now taking advantage of this to abuse the rights of others and inflicting punishment or denying service to individuals who cannot prove that they have registered as voters.
Public transporters have allegedly refused to carry passengers who don’t have ID cards, while others have gone to the extent of beating and forcing people to register.
Voting is a right but it is not compulsory.
There is no law that requires that a citizen who has reached the age of maturity must register as a voter.
Second, one can possess a voter’s card but still fail to vote.
Threatening, harassing, humiliating or beating up people can actually achieve the opposite effect, creating serious voter apathy.
Individuals who don’t participate in the election of political leaders do not lose the right to demand services and to hold leaders accountable.
One needs only to be a citizen to demand better governance from the leadership.
We must learn to respect the rights of others to not exercise their rights.
Rather than allowing unconstitutional methods, the electoral commission, political parties and relevant government agencies should establish why people shy away from voting.
Some may be so disillusioned that they cease to believe their votes will make a difference.
Others may be disappointed with the integrity and performance of the political class, while others may be worried about the outbreak of violence during elections.
Yet others may have no specific reason for keeping off and they shouldn’t be victimised for that.
The nation seems to be crying out for selfless, ethical and value-based leadership, a credible process, decisive action on graft and bad governance and service delivery.
We are now faced with severe drought, acute water stress, death of livestock and famine, especially in the arid and semi-arid regions.
Doctors serving in public hospitals have been on strike for over two months now, as are university lecturers.
Yet the politicians seem only preoccupied with getting the long-suffering people to register as voters.
Who will speak for the ordinary people?
For long, we have voted along tribal lines, yet, in return, all we have is theft of public resources, sloppy services and contempt for our efforts.
It is time to changed tack. We certainly cannot keep doing the same thing every five years and still expect different results.
Let us take responsibility for our country and vote out leaders who have not performed irrespective of their ethnic background.
Let us reject politicians’ money and decide for ourselves who deserves our vote whether moneyed or not, but most of all, allow people to exercise their democratic rights without resorting to coercion and methods that take away their rights to make decisions freely.
Let us surprise ourselves for once.
Mr Nyang’aya is the Amnesty International Kenya country director. [email protected]