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Why the Diaspora Vote is Crucial in the 2017 Kenyan Elections

By Cyrus Robiro | December 27th 2016

There is little doubt that Kenyans are a widely travelled and globally dispersed people. Whether at the foots of the Alps in Brescia, Italy, at the traditional Christmas market in Bonn Germany, in Tamale, Ghana or even at the Wall Street in New York to name but just a few, one is bound to bump into Kenyans not as tourists but as hardworking global citizens contributing their share to better the world. Indeed, the Daring Abroad series by Alex Chamwada is just but a highlight of some of these countrymen and women living beyond our borders. Similarly, my engagements with fellow Kenyans abroad have been, to say the least, impressive. The passionate ideas always discussed on how the full potential of the country can be realized are not only well informed but also promising and devoid of tribal connotations that have, unfortunately, come to be associated with most of us. However, the important role played by this group of citizens in contributing to Kenya’s governance seems to be receiving lesser seriousness than it deserves.

As Kenyans the world over look forward to 2017, it is lost to a few, if any, that the New Year will be a key determinant of the trajectory that the country will take after the General Elections slated for 8th August 2017. The farce that was witnessed in parliament shortly before Christmas over the amendment of election laws is just a pointer. The point of contention between the opposition and the ruling coalition is the introduction of the law allowing the IEBC to have a manual back up system should the electronic system fail as experienced in elections Nigeria, Ghana and even in the United States. While such an important law that means good to this country should be guided by the spirit of agreement between relevant stakeholders, it is the vigor that was applied by the ruling coalition to see the amendments sail through that is raising questions. It is, therefore, imperative for the relevant stakeholders to agree on laws concerning elections so as to avoid a repeat of the dark days of 2007/8.

In the midst of this debate, a large and crucial part of Kenyans living outside the country is unsure if they will exercise their democratic right to vote as stipulated in the Kenyan constitution. During his recent visit to Germany, President Kenyatta acknowledged the importance of the diaspora as the 48th county in Kenya by not only by the remittances back home but also by the experiences they have been exposed to. Indeed, data from the Central Bank of Kenya shows that the remittances by Kenyans in Diaspora amounted to around KSh 156.8 billion ($1.54 billion) in 2015 making it the single largest source of foreign currency and accounting to approximately 3% of the GDP. Since the official figures only capture the transfers through the official channels, the real figure is definitely way higher than this. In relative terms, the 47 counties were allocated a combined amount of KSh 307 billion in the 2016/2017 financial budget by the national government. Leaving such an important pillar of the Kenyan economy out of such an important decision would be a fatal error.

Kenyans in the Diaspora have also been exposed to the different forms of governance systems with a larger share living in countries with established democracies. Though every country has its own underpinnings, most of the political leaders in the established democracies are elected based on their laid out and tangible policies in comparison to Kenya where most of our elections are mainly informed by our tribal belonging. The Kenyans in the Diaspora are thus in a good position to not only induce best practice positive values but also help the country in identifying leaders that can be make the best out of our beautiful country.

The promising ruling of the supreme court in 2014 and the IEBC policies on diaspora voting are just some steps in the right direction. With the elections less than 8 months away, it would thus be wise for the Foreign Office and IEBC to quickly sort out their differences and enable the over 3 Million Kenyan citizens living outside the country exercise their democratic right and to extension the development of the country through casting their votes in the 2017 elections.

 Cyrus Robiro is a Political Science and Economics Student at the University of Frankfurt, Germany.

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