What we must do to rekindle interest in the upcoming polls

Voters queue to cast their votes at Ziwa la Ng'ombe Primary School polling centre in Mombasa County, August 08, 2017. [File, Standard]

Preliminary figures from around the country and the selected countries for diaspora voter registration, indicate that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was unable to meet its target.

This, we learn may be because of voter apathy but majority of potential voters interviewed tell an additional story. There is indeed a problem of voter apathy. However, a good number of potential voters say they were unable to register because of logistical or financial challenges.

Those in the diaspora indicated that the registration centres, mainly at Kenya’s Embassies and High Commissions were so far from their cities of residence that they needed to take the entire day and pay a lot to reach them; and in some cases, they would have to stay overnight.

This made registering as a voter way too expensive and unattainable. Therefore, many indicated willingness and commitment to participating in the democratic processes of their country, but were simply unable to participate. Whether intended or not, this is how disenfranchisement looks like.

Allocation of inadequate resources to IEBC and the requirement that they go ahead with registration, when they cannot reach out or provide viable opportunities to potential voters to register, is unfair to all the parties involved.

At national level, things were no better. The registration officials indicated that they did not have enough registration equipment and needed to share them between several wards. Sadly, the lists of the locations and schedules indicating when and where the IEBC registration teams would be at various locations, were kept at the constituency offices and only those who were near and aware were able to check!

In fact, we spent nearly three hours trying to locate a registration centre in Nairobi without success and we had to call around to locate one to get our children registered. In addition, little information was available to those wanting to transfer their voting centres, with most being required to write letters or obtain letters indicating their places of residence from chiefs or another local administrator.

These challenges made it difficult for many potential voters to register. It is important for these potential voters to know they are not completely locked out of registration, as voter registration continues at various IEBC offices. It is also critical for IEBC to find ways of sharing vital information to potential voters and to assist those who wish to change their polling stations or register at specific centres.

Voter apathy, which still remains a problem could be addressed through a variety of ways. There is a buzz around the reasons why the youth and businesspeople are apathetic to politics. Some include the fact that they feel there will be no substantial change in the government because the presidential candidates are essentially the same individuals who have served in various capacities in government.

Others say the politicians are just out to make outlandish promises they very well know they can’t keep but do anyway, taking advantage of their gullible supporters.

This is why majority of those generating wealth or baking the national cake, feel they are being taken for a ride and want nothing to do with the politicians because either way, participate or not, they see no difference between the candidates and whoever wins, their situation remains the same. So, why bother?

This is sad but understandable. Hence, the need for a paradigm shift. The media can help raise the bar by spotlighting issues-based campaigns and giving accolades to presidential candidates and their supporters who focus on issues, uniting Kenyans and who avoid personalising campaigns and intimidation.

The media should also enhance fact-checks during each newscast to ensure that, as they broadcast campaigns, they focus on fact-checking each campaign message for truth and call out fake promises and lies.

The politicians also need to intensify messaging in favour of voter registration and focus on the needs and concerns of Kenyans as they sell their political agenda.