Why Muslims need to be more active in elections

Muslims make up about 30 per cent of Kenya’s population. However, the official figure, according to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census, shows a figure much lower than that. In Kenya’s politics, the Muslim community has decided to take a back seat. In Tanzania, there is an agreement that Muslims and Christians alternate in succession politics. When President Julius Nyerere retired from active politics he handed over power to Hassan Mwinyi, a Muslim.

Since then presidents of Tanzania alternated between Muslims and Christians. Hassan Mwinyi was succeeded by Benjamin Mkapa, a Christian, who in turn handed the baton of power to Jakaya Kikwete, a Muslim. The current President of Tanzania Samia Suluhu succeeded the late John Magufuli who succumbed to illness recently. The situation in Tanzania might be a little different because Tanzania has a federal system where power is shared between Tanganyika and Zanzibar – two nations that combined to form the federal republic of Tanzania.

Since Kenya is a unitary state, the efforts to share power could come from Muslims getting better organised. In the current race for the presidency, no leading candidate seems to show a preference for a Muslim deputy president. This is because the Muslim nation in Kenya seems not to agree on anything. Let alone standing for the presidency of Kenya, we do not even agree on whether the crescent for the beginning of Ramadhan has been sighted.

The Muslims in Kenya are generally underserved. They are one of the poorest segments of Kenyan society. Besides it is normally a challenge for Muslims to get employed unless they have a chaperon who advocates for them or many often gaining access to jobs means parting with some money to facilitate it. The most frustrating though is acquiring important identity documents such as passports or the national identity card. Muslims, particularly those perceived to be of ‘foreign’ origin, have to produce so many documents, including the birth certificates of the grandparents and undergo tedious interviews before they access these crucial documents.

The other biggest challenge facing Muslims is disappearances and extrajudicial killings of mostly young men. So far it has been reported that thousands of young people have disappeared, never to be found again. It is believed that the government security agencies are behind these disappearances. Without a strong political voice and Muslim leaders establishing themselves as co-principals in the political formations ongoing in the run-up to the August elections, the situation for the Muslims will only get worse.

Muslims need to create their political vehicle or form a strong alliance with the leading political formations such as Kenya Kwanza or Azimio la Umoja, with a proven stake in the government. With Muslims commanding close to four million votes they can demand at least the position of a deputy president and a good number of positions in the government. The elections will come and pass but the challenge of the Muslims will continue to exist if they don’t come out of their comfort (or uncomfortable zone).

The writer is CEO, Frontier Counties Development Council. [email protected]