“The voter registration exercise will begin tomorrow.” “The voter registration period will close next week.” “The voter registration exercise will not be extended.” “The voter registration period has been extended for one month.”
Dear Kenyan, you are forgiven if you are sick and tired of the jarring jingles of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
Why must a constitutionally conferred right such as voter registration be turned into a meandering song and dance?
Our Constitution is very clear about “the right to be registered as a voter”. Section 82 (1) (c) states that “Parliament shall enact legislation to provide for the continuous registration of citizens as voters”.
The key word is “continuous”. It is repeated in Section 88 (4) (a). IEBC is “responsible for conducting and supervising continuous registration of citizens as voters”. Continuous. In other words, permanent, uninterrupted, non-stop.
Why does IEBC shirk its constitutional duty? Why have this ritual drama of opening and closing voter registration?
Granted, thanks to the casual commitment of many of our service providers, Kenyans have become accustomed to erratic supply of just about anything - electricity, water, sugar, teachers, doctors, fuel, ferries, name it.
Must IEBC join this dance of reluctant performers? It is a permanent, not an ad hoc, body.
So why does voter registration close? Kenyans are born daily, Kenyans die daily, and every day, someone, somewhere turns 18 and someone, somewhere is issued with a national identity card, a driving licence, a passport.
The registration of births and deaths never shuts down for stock-taking. The issuance of IDs, passports, and driving licences goes on every working day of the year.
Why, then, is the registration of voters managed like a “special favours” unit, as if it is a gift, or manna, that we should only expect on special days in the year?
There is a name for this kind of discrimination. It is called disenfranchisement.
And yet, the Constitution states clearly that, “administrative arrangements for the registration of voters and the conduct of elections shall be designed to facilitate, and shall not deny an eligible citizen the right to vote”.
How will thousands of Kenyans not be disqualified from actively participating in elections when the registration of voters is notoriously sporadic?
Those who love to invoke the high cost of providing public services will, no doubt, chime in at this moment and swear that IEBC cannot afford to keep registration teams on its payroll permanently. Really?
Maybe, along with Parliament which approves its budget, IEBC cannot afford benchmarking trips either, or sitting allowances, or teas, lunches, and retreats.
And these retreats! In Chinua Achebe’s words: “Retreat from what? From whom? From the people and their basic needs of water that is free from Guinea worm, of simple shelter and food?
"That’s what you are retreating from? You retreat up the hill and commune with your cronies and forget the very people who legitimise your authority.”
There are many things that public-funded bodies should not be spending taxpayers’ money on.
The fact that they persist in doing so only underlines the contempt in which they hold the people of Kenya and the cheek with which they desperately turn to donors to fund (and interfere with) that which is so integral to our sovereignty.
Those responsible for drawing up the structures and budgets of IEBC must, therefore, focus on the rights of the voter.
We have sung the praises of Huduma Centres. Why can’t IEBC have a registration desk at every Huduma Centre?
If its independence will be compromised by sharing a roof with sections of the Lands Registry, why doesn’t it set up desks at dispensaries?
We now live in the age of information technology and Kenyans enjoy globally superior bandwidth. So it really does not matter where IEBC clerks sit.
The work that they do can be scrutinised, tallied, and entered into the voters’ roll.
Dr Nyairo is a cultural analyst, [email protected]