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Here’s why Kenyans are getting allergic to voting

By Michael Ndonye | November 19th 2021

IEBC officials wait to register voters at Ebuchinga primary school in Lurambi, Kakamega county on November 4, 2021. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Today let's do a root cause analysis of why politicians are dishing out money to citizens during their early campaigns. Observably, politicians have realised that the prospective voter is more in interested in money than manifestos.

Methinks, it is for this reason that William Ruto is giving us money (so that we elect him), while Raila Odinga is promising us money if we elect him. It is apparent that the driving force for a Kenyan voter is ‘cash money.

But this is also a sign of high political apathy, which has already manifested in the form of poor turn-out in the recent mass voter registration exercise. Approximately 1.5 million new voters were enrolled against a target of six million. It was notable that the government, the electoral agency, the civil society and politicians didn’t invest enough in sensitisation and mobilisation. Unless the IEBC and all interested parties do things differently, voter apathy might peak during the 2022 General Election.

Political apathy, which is a general lack of interest in politics, is characterised by interest, voter and information apathy. Its symptoms are people and institutions exhibiting disinterest in participating in political activities. Counties will confirm that the public participation fora they occasionally call are poorly attended.

But then, why are citizens turning up in large numbers for political rallies? Why are they not doing so when it comes to mass voter registration or public participation fora?

First, it should be known that political apathy contributes largely to low voter turnout and the loss of democracy. Voter apathy is stirred by political ills like corruption and dishonesty among politicians.

If not checked, political apathy cripples the poor, the minority groups and the youthful voters who consider participation in political activities a waste of their time. Notably, a Mzalendo Trust study in 2019 showed that although the youth constitute 75 per cent of the Kenyan population, their political participation is a paltry 6.5 per cent. This trend is worrying.

A closer analysis of past elections shows that the upward voter turnout trend in 2002 is bending downwards. For example, from the 57.2 per cent and 69.09 per cent voter turnouts in 2002 and 2007 respectively, the voter turnout hit 85.91 per cent during the 2013 General Election. However, during the 2017 August general elections, voter turnout was 78 per cent, and later on 34 per cent during the opposition boycotted elections of October 26 of 2017.

Unfortunately, we will likely record a less than 70 per cent voter turnout come 2022 elections should the 2013-2017 trend remain. So, why is political apathy growing amongst Kenyans? In developed countries, voters refrain from the ballot if they believe that their vote won’t count. It is the mandate of the IEBC, political players, government agencies and civil society to assure citizens that their vote counts in elections.

Another reason for political apathy manifests in the hatred Kenyans have for politicians—evident from social media. The general public is angered by the hostility peddled by the politicians against each other. Citizens also have experience of politicians who seemingly care less about the welfare of the common mwananchi — evidenced by the passage of policies and bills that makes it difficult for ordinary citizens to afford necessities.

The apathy is also compounded by politicians' failure to fulfil their promises. As such, mwananchi is turning to sell their political participation; they are turning up in rallies with the hope they can get hand-outs from the politicians.

The last reason for political apathy is recycling politicians — Kenya has had a lack of variety in presidential candidates. As a result, the same politicians who were contesting elections in 1997, 2002 and 2007, which is 15 to 25 years ago—are the same people expected at the ballot. Resultantly, Kenyans might think that political participation brings no change in governance.

Dr Ndonye is a Lecturer of Communication and Media. @Dr_Mndonye

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