The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on Monday kicked off a 30-day voter registration exercise in preparation for next year’s general elections. The electoral agency urged Kenyans to avail themselves and get registered as IEBC targets to enlist over 6 million new voters, majority of whom are expected to be youth aged between 18 to 23 years old. The importance of the participation of this segment of the population in the 2022 polls cannot be overemphasized.
While youth take up the largest portion of the population, according to the 2019 census, they remain grossly underrepresented in the decision-making process. Thus the term, marginalized majority. In the current Parliament, only 32 out of the 416 members are aged thirty-five years and below, yet the youth formed the biggest voting bloc in the last elections. This disparity cannot be solved solely through nomination by political parties. It requires active involvement of young people in the political process including the party primaries and the ballot election. Being enlisted as a voter is a crucial first step in enabling one to stand up and be counted. Whether it’s through fronting themselves as a candidate or rallying behind a fellow youth. It gives power to their voices and interests.
Voting elevates the involvement of young people in the political process by providing a democratic and non-violent way to effect change. Granted, there is the legitimate fear of pre-determined results, but the voice of the people cannot be disputed when it’s loud and clear and supported by the majority. Previous elections have seen youth being exploited to intimidate opponents through chaos just for a fleeting small amount of money. It’s about time to change that narrative. Youth are not just a means to an end; youth are a key component in arriving at an end that strongly supports and gives solutions to their interests.
It is during this season that the IEBC needs to go beyond just enlisting voters but also sensitizing them on the electoral process as is required of them by the Constitution. Voting needs to come from an informed position. Tribal politics have dominated the electioneering period bastardizing the process. Young people need to change tact and scrutinize each of the candidates before taking a vote. The ‘six-piece’ way of voting seen in 2017 gave a free-pass to questionable individuals who were lucky enough to ride on their political party’s popularity. It needs to change. With the involvement of media in analyzing party manifestos, they can separate fact from fiction especially where incumbents are involved. A deeper understanding of the role of each of the elective posts will also enable voters question candidates who make promises that are not within their mandate. An informed ballot decision gives the voter more power and moral authority to hold those in office to account.
IEBC’s role really is crucial in ensuring the youth’s voices are heard. From sensitization to voter enlisting and conducting of party primaries. With the latter, youth have unfortunately been victims of intimidation and bullying when running against seasoned politicians. Transparent party primaries will guarantee that young people, particularly young women have a fair chance in political participation. The commission will certainly need the backing of civil society including election observer groups to not just execute their mandate but to hold them to account. Where applicable, the civil society should also educate the electorate on matters integrity to assist them weed out corrupt individuals who’ll sink the country deeper in impunity.
This season demands voter integrity, a moment for each Kenyan to look in the mirror and introspect. For youth, it is time to say no to impunity by refusing to be bribed to vote a certain way. Your voice should not be one that can be bought. It is powerful and can cause change, so let it.