Millions of voters risk 2017 elections lockout

Information Action (IFA) co-director Maina Kiai (second from left), then United Nations special rapporteur speaks as other panelist and US President Barack Obama (right) listens during the International Civil Society event in New York, USA, on September 23, 2013. An IFA report indicates that some five million potential voters in Kenya risk being locked out from next year’s general election. PHOTO: JIN LEE/EPA

A massive five million potential voters are at risk of being locked out from casting their ballots in next year’s general elections due to hurdles in getting National Identification cards.

A lobby group InformationAction (IFA) has identified 17 areas across six of Kenya’s eight regions where potential voters face hurdles in obtaining a national ID.

This has rendered them unable to vote. They also as a result lose opportunities to work and are constantly vulnerable to police harassment for lacking the crucial document.

In its report titled Election Watch, the lobby pointed out that the greatest obstacle making people not to register as voters is the struggle to obtain prerequisite national ID and not lack of resources as had earlier been claimed by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

The Electoral Commission has cited lack of resources as the main reason for the failure of reaching their target of registering 4.1 million voters and only managed to register about 1.4 million in the last mass voter registration in February.

“The definition of ‘border community’ is incredible broad. It applies to 17 counties spread across six of the Kenya’s eight regions affecting 25 percent of the population. This means that a staggering five million potential voters face hurdles in obtaining a national ID. Without an ID they cannot vote, and are constantly vulnerable to police harassment,” the report states.

In Western region, the affected areas include Bungoma, Teso and Mt Elgon. In Rift Valley the areas include Trans Nzoia, Turkana, Kajiado, Narok, Trans Mara and West Pokot.

Taita Taveta, Kwale, Lamu and Tana River counties are the most affected in coast region while Suba, Migori and Kuria bore the brunt in Nyanza.

The whole of North Eastern region is affected by the hurdles in getting ID cards with Ijaara in Garissa County the worst.

Northern Kenya areas of Marsabit, Moyale and Isiolo are also in the fray. In Isiolo, for instance, the report noted that youths still have waiting cards dating back from 2012.

It claims that they were denied registration even though waiting cards should have been sufficient for IEBC to register them as per section 5(3B) of the Elections Act.

Speaking during the launch of the report, IFA Co-Director Maina Kiai said ID card in Kenya means citizenship and nationality and is therefore a fundamental constitutional and human right.

“Disenfranchising Kenyans facilitates the predatory instincts of the security forces who use lack of an ID card to extort from Kenyans. If the right to the all-important ID is arbitrary and is turned into a privilege, it is exploited,” Kiai said.

According to the report, a significant proportion of population are affected by discriminatory ‘special vetting processes which are an obstacle to acquiring national ID.

The report also documented instances of individuals having their applications rejected on the basis of religious attire and Muslim names. The report pointed out that border Counties such as Mandera, Wajir and Turkana have seen a dismal rate of voter registration compared to non-border counties particularly those in Central region.

Officials of the lobby group visited areas such as Kericho, Maralal, Kisii, Kisumu, Nyeri, Garissa and Mombasa.

“Given that voter registration issues have plagued several contested Kenyan elections and remain unresolved to date, IFA insists that it is critical to urgently address these registration problems so as to minimise further loss of public confidence in IEBC,” they concluded.

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