In 1963, Kenya had only two million voters, six parties

Kenyans queue to vote in 1963. [File, Standard]

As the poll nears, the main presidential candidates are now busy crunching numbers to establish the methods to be deployed to win the hearts of over 12 million votes to win the presidency.

This August, a total of 22.1 million voters will express their wish on who their next president will be. In the 2017 General Election, the battle was for 19 million voters who had to go to the ballot twice after the initial poll held on August 9 was invalidated by the Supreme Court.

This year's battle for numbers brings back memories of the first election conducted between May 18 and 26, 1963, soon after Kenya got independence. The election was historic in that for the first time, Africans were casting their votes to elect their representatives in the National Assembly and Parliament.

At the time, the country which had a population of 8.9 million people, registered only a total of 2,583,000 voters. Interestingly when the final tally of the votes cast was done, it turned out that only 1.7 million people had expressed their wish at the ballot.

Despite the razzmatazz generated by coming independence to a country which had been in shackles for almost 70 years, the voter turnout was 67.6 per cent.

Although the dominant parties then were Kanu which comprised of the two most populous communities (Kikuyu and Luo) and Kadu which was an alliance of the smaller tribes, there was a third force.

Paul Ngei, a veteran politician who had earned his stripes at Kapenguria serving a jail term alongside former President Jomo Kenyatta and other freedom fighters had formed, African People’s Party (APP).

The outcome of the election which was boycotted by the entire North Eastern region saw Kanu garner 1,028,906 votes translating to 59.2 per cent. It also got 18 out 41 senate seats while Kadu managed 474,933 votes (27 per cent) and 16 senators.

The surprise package was APP which got 147,039 votes and snatched two senate seats while there was only one senator elected as an independent. Other fringe parties such as Nyanza Province African Union (NPUA) got only one seat in the Senate, while Baluhya Political party could only manage 5,520 votes and did not secure any Senate seat.

All the political parties that participated in the 1963 General Election are dead except Kanu, whose rule ended in 2002. 

More than ten elections have been held since this watershed polls, but some trends prevalent then are still seen today as party membership is still organised around communities and geographical locations.