History has an uncanny way of repeating itself. Before the 2002 elections both the number of registered voters and voter turnout were very low. The total number of registered voters was only a third of the current one and the turnout was about half of the registered voters
This was not just relative to the country’s population but also because there was low level of interests by the youth to participate in elections. The 2005 referendum saw heightened participation.
Of about 11.8 million registered voters about 6.1 million turned out to vote for either orange (against) or banana (for) in the referendum. In 2002 there were about 10.4 million registered voters out of which about 5.97 voted with a 57.193 per cent turnout according to the disbanded Electoral Commission of Kenya statistics.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has registered more than 19 million voters. This number is still low relative to the population of about 53.7 million majority of whom are youth not yet registered for various reasons.
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The IEBC needs to target the youth for registration as voters in the forthcoming national registration campaign in preparation to the 2022 general elections on August 9th. However, it faces a situation similar to their 2021 registration which was shunned by the very youth it was targeting.
The question IEBC should be asking is why did it not interest the youth to register and what can it do now to ensure the forthcoming registration campaign is not a waste of public resources? Perhaps, IEBC can borrow a leaf from history lessons.
In 2006, True Blaq, Redykyulass and the Institute of Education in Democracy (IED) where I was the Executive Director, came together to implement a national voter education campaign dubbed “Vijana Tugutuke ni Time Yetu Campaign (Vijana Tugutuke),” to address the problem of low participation of the youth (apathy) in democratic, governance and electoral processes.
The project aimed at reaching the youth with civic and voter education messages to sensitise them on their rights and obligations in political decision-making, governance and elections and to motivate them to register as voters and to seek elective positions during the 2007 polls.
Vijana Tugutuke, was a social mobilisation and motivational campaigned that used artists as agents and messages carriers and targeted the youth with ID cards. Performing artists in music, comedy, dance and other forms of entertainment were mobilised and engaged in driving this project.
We publicised concerts in big towns all over Kenya, had road shows, printed t-shirts, bandanas, and merchandise attractive to the youth and three days before each concert, we camped in the respective towns doing road shows and mobilising for the main event, distributing vijana tugutuke merchandise.
The message was clear; to attend the concert you only needed an ID card, entry was free. We collaborated with the ECK and the media, who played a critical role. During the preparations, ECK pitched tents at the concert venue and for three days registered youth eager to attend the concert.
Youth who had applied for ID cards and had not collected them, went for them. The concerts were open to all registered voters but were mainly patronised by the youth. The unregistered were required to go to ECK tents inside the venues to be registered and then proceeded to the concert. We had selected 14 towns all over Kenya and went to the farthest ends of the country. This project excited all ages including politicians who were begging for an opportunity to greet the youth, but I refused.
I write about it because it was very successful and its effects were felt in 2007 and beyond as more youth voted and sought elective positions. IEBC needs another vijana tugutuke with strategic partnerships especially in civil society and the entertainment sector to succeed.
The media was key to the success of this project; and now we also have robust social media. IEBC should consider this seriously.