Diaspora Unhappy with Voting Regulation

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IEBC Chairman Isaack Hassan addressing Kenyans in Washington, DC 2 weeks ago

A sense of frustration and anger is mounting among Kenyans living abroad following the recent announcement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) that polling in the forthcoming general elections will only be conducted at the Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates abroad.

Scores of Kenyans living in the US and Canada who spoke to The Standard on phone over the weekend expressed disappointment in IEBC's position terming it dictatorial, unreasonable and a technical excuse to lock out majority of Kenyans living abroad in the historical elections.

"I'm feeling very depressed about the IEBC’s position. In as much as I really want to register and vote, there is no way I'm going to drive for over ten hours to either DC or LA just to vote. It doesn't make sense," Said Samson Omwenga of Dallas, Texas.

In a finality that seemed to clump down on any possibility of negotiation or compromise on a stand that IEBC Chairman Hassan Isaack said was 'arrived' at by the commissioners after 'careful' considerations, the commission invoked a controversial clause in the new constitution that provides for "the progressive registration and realisation of rights to vote by Kenyans residing abroad".

Speaking separately at the Sheraton Hotel in Wilmington, Delaware during the taping of a TV show - Diaspora Voice that is scheduled to start airing in June, two leading Kenyan activists based in the US accused the IEBC of using the controversial clause to disenfranchise the Diaspora.

Mkawasi Mcharo-Hall, immediate former President of Kenya Community Abroad (KCA) and Francis Ngumba, a social activist said the Commission was using a loop hole in the constitution to disenfranchise the Diaspora.

"The commission has taken advantage of this clause to basically deny the Diaspora their hard earned rights to vote. Arising out of their announcement, there is this perverting sense of frustration and anger among the Diaspora that is not good for their future involvement in the country's affairs," Said Mkawasi Mcharo- Hall, former president of Kenya Community Abroad (KCA).

Ms Mkawasi said it sounds almost like a joke to expect an estimated half a million Kenyans living across USA to vote at only three polling stations located in Washington DC, New York and Los Angeles.

"It’s not just unfair to the Diaspora, it also shows lack of good faith in the spirit of democratic rights," she added.

Speaking at the same venue, Mr Ngumba said what was making the situation worse was the fact that politicians seem to have also abandoned the Diaspora.

"People like Prime Minister Raila Odinga who have been at the forefront of championing Diaspora rights to vote seem to be afraid of challenging the IEBC even when they know that what the commission is doing is wrong," he said.

A few weeks ago, the Foreign Affairs Assistant Minister Richard Onyonka during a Diaspora Summit in Boston, Massachusetts gave a pre-view of what the functional details of the voting process would look like. To the delight of many he announced that several voting precincts would be strategically set up to service the Kenyan voting population located in various regions across the States.

Then a week later, came conflicting news reports from the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairman, Isaack Hassan categorically stating that Diaspora voting will be conducted only at the Embassies, High commissions and Consulates.

Donald Odotte, a member of North American Diaspora Association, Allentown Chapter says large clusters of Kenyans living in the South along Interstate 95 beyond the Carolinas, Georgia, or Florida, they will be faced with a painstaking 10 hour or more drive to DC. Midwesterner States of Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, similarly with large Kenyan populations would almost certainly have to fly into DC or New York rather that drive for half a day in order to vote.

"Kenyans living in the State of Texas with the largest population of Kenyans in the US, clumped around Houston, and Dallas - Fort Worth regions would be the most disenfranchised. It would either be a 22 hour drive to DC, 26 hours to New York, 22 hours to Los Angeles, or book an expensive flight to any of these destinations, so pick your poison," he said.

Mr Odotte, a Kenyan resident of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania says except for a hand full of individuals with a compulsive disposition to cast that vote despite all the attendant inconveniences, expenses and the long distance to be traveled would most definitely discourage the collective desire for a vast majority of Kenyans from exercising their constitutional duty to participate in the elections.

"The service gaps unfairly accords easy access to populations closer to the embassies and consulates, while creating systemic voter suppression for Kenyans who reside in areas that are not within reasonable access to the polling stations," he added.

Ben Ondoro, president of Kenya Community in Ontario, Canada polling stations in the upcoming general elections being restricted only to Kenyan missions abroad was very unfortunate.

"Take Canada for example, majority of Kenyans live in Toronto but the Kenyan High Commission is in Ottawa which is about 5 hours away and cost more than $120 if one is traveling by public means.

Those in other provinces are even in a more difficult situation as for one to travel from Calgary, Alberta, to Ottawa, a return airline ticket would be approximately $700.

The truth of the matter is that there is still enough time for IEBC to put a mechanism in place that will allow them install more polling stations so the majority of Kenyan Diaspora can truly vote in large numbers unless this is a deliberate attempt to lock out some of us from voting in this coming elections," he said.

By Chirs Wamalwa,
The Standard

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