The voter registration frenzy is a distraction from larger issues

Friday February 10 2017

There is a growing sentiment and desire to make issues, and not personalities, the focus of the 2017 elections, and for this the political class is not happy.

An awakened electorate is scary and a potential disruption of the status quo.

It is also clear that much of the political class has no sense of shame in trying to secure the tried and tested path to power. That power rests on a disillusioned or apathetic citizenry that is now saying "enough is enough".

This is why they would want us to believe that the entire process of elections rests on mass voter registration, and the act of voting.

The issue has even been sexualised. Women have been advised to deny their husbands sex if they haven’t registered to vote, creating a problematic lens that women’s political power is best wielded through sex or its denial.

Distractions are being formulated in half-told truths, or facts twisted to suit political interests. Distraction is the election discourse being hijacked by poppycock declarations that if you don’t (register to) vote, you don’t get to complain about poor services, or the state of the nation overall.


Distraction is the continued organising of politics along ethnic lines, as if resulting injustice has been based on where you hail from. In fact, it could be argued that the biggest political distraction yet, is the building and development of this country along ethnic lines.

Yet this is an exciting election season, because increasingly, Kenyans are calling out these distractions. Having played along for so long, we are tired. It is clear to us that the status quo doesn’t benefit us all.


That key political figures have either been mum on the ongoing public health and drought crises while still finding time to tour the country and mobilise citizens, especially youth to register and vote perhaps is the best indicator yet that the political class has not been ready for a "woke" citizenry.

The desperate measures being adopted to get people to register and the persistence in reducing Kenyans to votes speaks to a shifting tide in politics in this country.

However, it is a long road ahead. Taking a cue from the doctors on strike, the fight is far from over. In fact, framing the doctors’ strike as solely about remuneration is a distraction.

The dearth of media coverage of the full picture right from the onset, and the power of social media in formulating a strong counter-narrative to the attempted vilification of doctors shows that we have the tools at our disposal to fight back against distractions.

Another win registered without much support from mainstream media coverage is the cancellation of the First Lady’s Beyond Zero Marathon, which in itself, was a distraction, deliberately or otherwise.

Calling out the immorality of these diversionary initiatives laced with a feel-good effect, while there has been wanton theft of public funds meant for the very same cause, has fallen squarely on connected citizens.

The distractions will keep coming, be they about politicians’ messy personal lives and utterances. It is encouraging to note the co-opting of the Deputy President’s story to discuss child support, again on social media.

One could argue that there’s a concerted attempt at scattering our attention, and diverting it from the real and urgent issues this country faces; all these years later, political promises and manifestos later, Kenyans are dying of hunger, yet we pay taxes, and have institutions that should be addressing it.

That we are, yet again, being asked to dip into our strained pockets to alleviate the situation for our brothers and sisters, as if we haven’t already, is an attempt to exonerate those who have been tasked with the job for not fulfilling their duties.

Guarding against this distraction is asking the important questions, like why it is that, after the Kenyans4Kenya initiative just five years ago, with chants of "never again", our people are yet again dying from mismanagement of resources we contribute to avoid exactly this.


It is not inhumane to demand answers about what the government has been doing, because if we roll over and only react to this emergency, it will emerge again and again down the line.

Health, education, water, unreliable electricity, rising cost of living, hunger. These cannot be the problems we continue to face, and expected to overlook in the name of registering to vote. They are the very drivers of whom we elect, and for what?

It is unfortunate that our media are all-too-willing parties in dispensing these distractions. One-off attempts to get it right makes not for credibility, and we are not easily fooled by such. This, I believe, really is their year of reckoning.

There is a growing resistance to celebrating mediocrity in all estates of this society. We are not ingrates for demanding excellence, consistently.

This, for me, gives me hope that we may be recalibrating the power dynamics in political framing. We must keep on, online and offline. We must also not stop after August 8.

We shouldn’t merely vote out the rotten lot in elective positions; we must make it very clear to all who seek to represent Kenyans that doing their constitutionally mandated jobs is not a favour, but an obligation. We must redefine public service, till it works for every corner of this country.

Finally, expect more than the distraction that “social media is a force of evil”, as it continues to be a space through which we are speaking truth to power. Avenues for citizen voice must be secured and utilised, even if on occasion there will be a few rotten apples.

Twitter: @NiNianjira