When I visited my polling station to cast my vote on August 9, I was quite impressed by the speed at which I was able to do so. The performance of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission might have been wanting on many fronts but compared to the 2017 elections, I think they improved quite a bit on the number of voting streams per station, making the exercise very efficient. As I left the station, therefore, it was difficult to tell whether the seemingly lower numbers were as a result of efficiency or voter apathy.
As voting closed and results began trickling in, it was becoming clear that voter turnout was not as impressive as many had expected. The numbers seen in many of the polling stations across the country were nothing close to the multitudes witnessed during the campaigns rallies.
What was even clearer was the fact that most of the people queuing to vote were the middle-aged and older people. The many youths hitherto seen on the streets blowing whistles and engaging in physical altercations were nowhere to be seen.
While this was not unexpected, it says a lot about the numbers that attend the political rallies vis-a-vis those who actually take their time to not only register as voters but also cast their votes.
One way to explain the voter apathy witnessed on Tuesday is voter fatigue.
It seems Kenyans are generally fatigued. There is no intrinsic motivation for people to leave their work stations, sometimes travelling hundreds of kilometres, to vote. In fact, a woman I engaged in a chit-chat hours before the country went to the polls lamented that she would not waste her time voting, equating the exercise to "creating job opportunities for other people’s husbands". This, perhaps, is the reasoning of the majority of people who were a no-show during the election.
As elected leaders take office, they should think hard about the message that Kenyans seem to be sending through their voting patterns. The youth especially, seem to be keen on taking whatever money is available during the campaign periods, maybe since in their minds, that is the only ‘development’ they will get from their leaders once the latter take power. They have not been given enough reason to directly equate voting and related exercises to their own social, economic and political growth.
Rather than look at the low turnout negatively, I choose to take it as a great indicator of where Kenyans are in their perception of political leadership in the country. Over the years, Kenyans have woken up early to elect their representatives every five years.
Unfortunately, the economic status of a majority of them remains poor as billions of shillings are embezzled in corruption scandals. Showing up for elections by patriots, downing of tools by workers and picketing by civil society organisations seem to make no sense to the political leaders. Maybe Kenyans have decided to communicate to the political elite in a language the latter understand best.
Maybe, failure to show up for the politicians when they needed Kenyans the most, is the best way to get those that got lucky to look up and recognise the presence of the common mwananchi, because let’s face it, voter turnout is too huge a determiner of outcomes for politicians to ignore.
Dr Kiambati is a communications trainer and consultant, Kenyatta University.