The most recent numbers released by IEBC on voter registration are disheartening, though expected due to the existing anger against the political class. The numbers showed nothing less than a protest manifested in the form of apathy. Although this style of protesting should be discouraged because it weakens democracy rather than enriching it.
It is a discernible fact that the majority of the targeted voters are young people who will be voting for the first time, but they are just not showing up. An SMS poll we conducted in 26 counties across the country shows that only 49.3% of our users are registered and will be voting in next year’s polls. 47.9% of them said they would not be voting next year and 2.8% were unsure about it citing a number of reasons This has begged quite a number of questions. What could be the reason for not showing up? Is it a case of giving up with the system? Is it ignorance? Or is it that the youth are just not bothered ?
In an ideal situation you would have imagined an excited population of youth coming out to register, since this is the only opportunity for them to be handed power to vote in leaders that resonate with their needs and aspirations. In a democracy like Kenya, it is only through the vote that the youth can exercise their power to fire incompetent leaders and hire leaders that they want.
Youth in Kenya for a long time have experienced the burdens of poor governance. This segment of the population makes up the majority of unemployed Kenyans, dependants and those living in poverty. According to the 2019 Kenya population census, 75% of the 47.6 million population is under the age of 35. Those aged between 18-34 years old, account for 29% of the population, with the number having increased since 2019. This demographic is so huge, so significant and yet so marginalized . It is a status that is so paradoxical, a group of people so powerful and yet so weak in reality.
Every five years, the youth currency increases in value, with the political class renewing their abusive relationship with this segment of voters. A quite disrespectful relationship of use and dump. Young people have started to be recruited as political bloggers and propagandists to spew hate against opponents. Recruited into outfits such as youth leagues that have a shorter life span than that of a mayfly. We may pause and ask. Young people need to revaluate this relationship that diminishes their value once the elections are concluded. Are they okay with this short-term kind of a relationship? Are they satisfied with the mediocrity dramatized by most politicians? We hope not.
Youth need to discover the power of the vote, by registering within time and voting right. The vote is like a five-years voucher or even investment. It ought to be taken with the seriousness that it deserves. With the vote, young people, like all Kenyans, can redeem a good education system, an inclusive and sustainable education loans regime, a nationally structured mentorship and internship program, employment opportunities and an enabling environment for ideas and innovations. The current mass voter registration is a good place to start reinventing the youth constituency, however much fragmented it is. Our uniform problems and almost similar interests for the future need to bring us together. There are places where the youth have done it – save the future of their country. Zambia experienced the largest voter turnout in the last election. Young people came out to vote like they have never done before, and finally their voice was heard.
It would be encouraging to see a similar interest in politics among the youth replicated in Kenya. Not the kind of interest of cheering their tribesman to win a presidential election or bashing other candidates because they come from other tribes. Not an interest of just registering and voting irrationally but an interest in demanding transparency and accountability in governance and all political processes.
The current enhanced mass voter registration exercise provides an opportune time for those who have not registered to do do. There is still a window of two weeks, remaining for you to make a change for your future. Make your voice be heard, won’t you?