Kenyans in Diaspora miss out on 2013 poll

People queue to cast their ballots during past elections. Kenyans in the Diaspora will not vote in the next General Election, Justice minister Eugene Wamalwa told Parliament November 27, 2012 NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kenyans in the Diaspora will not vote in the next General Election.

The bombshell was delivered to Parliament Tuesday by Justice minister Eugene Wamalwa, who told MPs the decision was reached at last week’s Cabinet meeting.

It followed consideration of the preparedness of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to handle the massive exercise of registration of voters locally and abroad, he said.

The government cites logistical, financial and time constraints as the main reason for the setback.

“It is therefore not practical to have them take part now,” the minister said.

Already, Parliament has passed rules to guide the registration of voters in the Diaspora. The official number of Kenyans in the Diaspora registered with the various Kenyan Embassies stands at 130,000.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, puts the estimated number of Kenyans in foreign countries at 700,000.

In a statement that caught MPs unawares, the minister said it was not practical to have the population in the Diaspora exercise the voting right as enshrined in the Constitution.

The government decision, the minister said, is based on a landmark ruling by the High Court on November 15 that found that though the right is guaranteed constitutionally, it was not absolute and cannot be realised instantaneously but progressively.

Many Kenyans in the Diaspora were looking forward to registering as voters to participate in the March 4, 2013 General Election.

The government, however, considered that their right to vote will not be realised immediately, citing challenges facing the IEBC.

“Why it was belated is because we were trying everything to empower IEBC, supporting them fully and holding their hands in every way, but for now what they have on their table is already too much,” the minister said.

The Cabinet considered several options possible, including starting with some blocs such as the East African Community, the IGAD or the European Union community.

2017 General Election

It, however, resolved to give the electoral commission more time to make necessary preparations to have them vote in the 2017 General Election.

“It is just a question of practicability of the exercise with the time left. Can we really expect them to carry out a registration exercise for eligible Kenyan voters all over the world,?” he posed.

“It is a question that needs proper preparation, let us get our house in order, let us prepare adequately to avoid a repeat of the 2007/2008 experience. There will be progress that will be made until they are able to participate,” he stated.

The move will dampen spirits given that the community abroad has been assured time and again that it will be able to participate in the elections.

Indeed, several presidential candidates have included the Diaspora community on their campaign schedule reaching out to them in several trips abroad. Aspirants have also set up campaign teams abroad.

MPs scoffed at the news, immediately challenging it. Ikolomani MP Dr Boni Khalwale said the Cabinet cannot make the decision unilaterally and must consult Parliament.

“Before we give an impression to this country that Parliament is supporting the Cabinet decision to deny Kenyans this constitutional right, we must be approached formally. Let us send the minister back to the Cabinet so that the Cabinet comes and formally requests the House so that the Constitution can be protected,” he stated.

The decision comes after the electoral commission indicated that it had set aside 47 biometric kits for registration of voters in the Kenyan Diaspora community

Presidential aspirant Martha Karua said it was heartrending that the Government position comes after Parliament laboured to pass rules regarding Diaspora voting and the arrival of the electronic voting kits.

She said the move amounts to interference with the electoral process and obstruction of the registration of voters.

Githunguri MP Njoroge Baiya said the government does not have an option but to demonstrate an attempt to comply with the constitutional requirement.

“It is very regrettable to wait until the last minute to lock the door on the Diaspora community,” he stated.

The MP said Kenyans in the Diaspora are key stakeholders given that they remit substantial resources to the country.

“They have an interest in how the country votes,” he said, terming the Cabinet decision a retrogressive one.

Ploy to delay next elections

Ndhiwa MP Augostino Neto questioned the move saying it could be a ploy to delay the next elections. He said a member of the Diaspora community could move to court to challenge the decision.

Naivasha MP John Mututho argued that the Diaspora vote could make a difference and it should not be difficult for IEBC to capture details of the eligible voters given that the same is captured when they acquire they passports.

However, Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo said a thorough research will be necessary.

“Don’t just do something just to politically please people. How will we be sure that if you take BVR kits to Washington DC, a Nigerian will not register to vote as a Kenyan,” he stated.

Mr Wamalwa, responding to the concerns, said he was personally saddened by the move given that the government has been assuring its Diaspora family that they will have an opportunity to vote.

However, he said, the decision was inevitable given the tight timelines that IEBC has.

“The credibility of an election starts with the integrity of the voter register. Even in ensuring we have all the 18 million Kenyans registered everything has to be done to ensure that there are not mistakes,” he said.

“It is therefore the position of government that IEBC be given sufficient time,” he stated.


11 comments on “Kenyans in Diaspora miss out on 2013 poll

  1. And the beat goes on!

    Diaspora voter in court over registration

    A Kenyan living in the United Kingdom has moved to court seeking orders to stop the electoral commission from gazetting the voters’ register until his case challenging a decision not to register Diaspora voters is determined.

    The businessman, Jeffer Kanu, accuses the Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of reneging on its promise and constitutional mandate to ensure that Kenyans living in the Diaspora are registered as voters so that they can participate in the General Election.

    He claims that IEBC had initially identified Kenyan consulates and embassies abroad as registration centres for people living in the Diaspora but the commission changed its position that it was not possible for Kenyans living abroad to be registered.

    The voter listing exercise started on November 19 and will run for 30 days where 18 million Kenyans are expected to register as voters.

    Case expedited

    Mr Kanu wants his case which he filed at the High Court in Nairobi through lawyer John Khaminwa to be expedited because Kenyans are set to go to polls on March 4, 2013.

    Mr Kanu says he decided to file the case after the IEBC chairman Issack Hassan confirmed that only Kenyans residing in the East African region would be registered as voters.

    Justice Eugene Wamalwa and Mr Hassan cited logistical, financial and time constraints as the main reason for the setback.

    “Kenyans in the Diaspora being citizens also have the rights without unreasonable restrictions to be registered as voters and to participate in the voting process by secret ballot,” says Mr Kanu.

    He accuses IEBC and the Ministry of Justice of violating the rights of Kenyans living in the Diaspora to participate in the legitimate and electoral process as provided for in the Constitution.

    Mr Kanu argues that he and other Kenyans living in the Diaspora have been elevated to second class citizens and discriminated against by the state organs responsible for putting in place mechanisms to have them participate in the next elections.

    He adds that the interests of Kenyans living in the Diaspora cannot be wished away because they contribute immensely to the welfare of the country in terms of revenue and help in stabilising the shilling.

    High Court Judge David Majanja has directed that all parties appear before him on Monday for hearing.


  2. IEBC locks out diaspora voters

    PHOTO | JACOB OWITI Speaker Kenneth Marende registers as a voter at Mumboha Primary School in Vihiga county on December 1, 2012. NATION MEDIA GROUP

    The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has ruled out registering voters living in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Australia and any country outside East Africa ahead of the March 4 General Election.

    Commission chairman Issack Hassan said on Saturday that only Kenyans who live in the five East African Community countries will have a chance to cast their votes for aspirants of their choice.

    Mr Hassan said that unpopular as the decision was, it had been informed by time and resource constraints.

    “We have agreed to begin the process of diaspora voter listing with Kenyans in the five countries that make up the East African Community bloc,” he said.

    The East African Community is made up of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

    But presidential aspirant Peter Kenneth expressed disappointment in the Cabinet’s decision to lock out Kenyans living abroad. (Read: Kenyans abroad to sue over voter listing rights)

    In a statement, the Gatanga MP said the IEBC is an “independent constitutional commission which should not take instructions from any other quarters”.

    Mr Hassan defended the IEBC decision citing time and money shortage.

    “Much as we are an independent body, we have agreed with the Cabinet advice on logistical challenges that would not have made this possible,” he said.

    The Cabinet rejected a request by the commission to register Kenyans abroad.

    Mr Hassan had proposed that the voters cast their ballots at the consulates and embassies in the countries they live.

    He said he had written to President Kibaki and East African Community minister Musa Sirma, inviting the government to assist them roll out a voter listing programme within the allocated time.

    Mr Hassan said the commission would embark on an ambitious listing exercise to ensure Kenyans abroad vote online in subsequent elections.

    “Any other election after the 2013 one will see those patriotic Kenyans cast their votes from their countries of residence,” he said.

    He asked the voters in the diaspora to be patient.

    “There is no need for them to threaten us with court action and other forms of intimidation. They need to understand that our hands are tied and, if we were to push ahead with fulfilling their wishes now, it would be below their expectations, something we do not want to do as a credible body,” Mr Hassan said.


  3. keeping the ballot box away from kenyans in the diaspora is unconstitutional but let’s be honest with ourselves, we all knew this thing wasn’t going to work despite the assurances by the IEBC commissioners during their numerous trips to the US.
    The closer we get to the election date, the more convinced i am that the IEBC does not have the capacity to give us a problem-free election.

    with the high-stakes 2013 election one cannot rule out political interference either. politicians will do anything to keep the votes at home where they can control certain variables to influence the outcome of an election eg intimidating voters, bribing voters and election officials etc.

    what about those who work in foreign missions or are away on governmnent assignments shouldn’t they get a chance to vote?


  4. == sorry guys had started writing this up but never got to complete and post earlier, anyway like the IEBC better never than late ….er …..oops….. did i get that wrong somehow? 🙂 == here goes (modified to include recent comments)

    there is a huge difference in mindsets on how the logistics of diaspora voting can be implemented.

    IEBC have to retain some kind of control over the process and this can be achieved only if their permanent staff are directly involved at key points

    however IEBC staff are not diplomatic mission staff. diplomatic mission staff are by and large beholden to the government of the day, therefore their impartiality immediately comes to question

    then comes the obvious issues of geo-location for the diaspora, i.e proximity to a designated poll center. the fact of the matter is that, those that can do so i.e either fly or drive to the diplomatic mission post, are actually capable of flying all the way home (due to resources, time, availability or other factors) and typically this would be less than 20-30% of eligible voters.

    so then comes the give and take. fact is, most foreign countries particularly the industrialized nations have functional and credible public services and therefore see no need for anyone to travel hundreds of miles if they can achieve the same result vide a 20cts stamp.

    this is not a complicated issue. the problem is that kenyans have totally lost trust and confidence in their systems. there is no integrity anywhere. all these interventions such as BVR, etc are cosmetic camouflage to hide the rot beneath. even now there are questions on the integrity of Data after it hits the BVR system, why, because the rot is very deep.

    the point here is that, in most of the industrialized nations, people can cast their vote/ballot and mail to a designated center. there is little chance of or risk of tampering while en-route to the poll center

    the problem is what happens once the vote gets to the center. this is our fundamental problem. i.e our values as a country, our integrity and fidelity (or lack thereof) to just simply doing the right thing i.e deliver a message as is, without fiddling with it, tampering with content for some of personal gain (theft, distort, mutilate, etc). we simply do not trust the people “entrusted” to do carry out these tasks. this is what needs fixing. we can buy 3m BVR kits and even install BVR kits in every citizens home, but until we fix the real “country and national values” problem, no amount of spending will mask the stinking rot.

    this is what Job alludes to and explains very clearly about how those planning to steal the election are (or at least were) intending to stuff ballots through inflated figures from non existent places. something that under the present circumstances would be difficult to verify and like in Kriegler’s case, would uncover way too late to do any good.

    i think whereas moesha and adongo have a valid point, guys in diaspora have to think about the greater good.

    on a side note, it still defies logic to invest 10bn in a mechanical or electronic system, which will subsequently require at least 30% of capital investment costs in annual maintenance and upkeep, whereas, sustained re-education and societal re-engineering with far most long lasting and sustainable results/impact can be achieved at a far much lower cost, and employ far many more staff.

    i think kenyans will always take the route where most money is consumed rather than identify least cost, most practical and long term solutions towards any problem solving.


    • job & tnk,

      The sad reality is that we have known from day one that Kenyans in diaspora will not vote. Certainly not in the countries they live and work. IEBC and politiicans kept selling snake oil to people out here but were doing absolutely nothing. Now they have a cabinet minister making an announcement about polls, which is none of his business.

      Will a court case work?

      Here is one:

      As people have pointed out the law gives wiggle room for the IEBC to claim they are implementing the law progressively. The reality on the ground is that the IEBC has done nothing at all. In fact with only two weeks left for voter registration it is safe to say not even one voter will be registered in the diaspora.

      So has the IEBC carried their mandate to facilitate those in diaspora to vote or have they deliberately and even maliciously refused to do so hoping to hide behind “progressive” implementation clause. I think with a court case the IEBC would be required to tell the court what they have done up to and how they are actually implementing the new law. Where are those baby steps they have taken to demonstrate that they do take the law seriously. At least if they had registered ten people in Washington they can say they have started the process and it may be in place in the year 2050 when people will actually be voting. But if they have totally disregarded the matter a judge may take issue with that. And god forbid a judge rules in favour of the diaspora folks. What then? Simply put, the IEBC should have registered as many people as they can and if the logistics do not work for the actual voting they could day they are laying the ground work.

      But we live in a country where nothing gets done until and unless the powers that be are absolutely forced into a corner. That is why they are twisitng in the wind with The Hague guagmire and even pretending it can be wished away. Poor things. They are sleep walking right into it. Great!

      Look at what they are doing with the 2/3 gender requirement. They are still sleeping on it and parliament has barely weeks to be cut off. Very soon M.Ps will be on Christmas vacation and will barely make it back to parliament before its time expires on January 15, 2013.

      Meanwhile Githu Muigai is waiting for the SC to help him understand something which is very obvious. What happens if they run out of time and the courts insist, as they must, that the 2/3 gender rule is a must here and now. Or if in their last minute rush they pass a defective legislation which needs to be fixed! Do you call back an expired parliament to pass the necessary legislations?. That is not possible. Do you bury your head in the sewage in the Nairobi river and hope everything will just be fine when you end up with a comatose parliament next year? They don’t know and have no time for such work to be done. They are too busy minting coalitions today and unminting them tomorrow. Talk about clueless


  5. @Adongo, I am with you on this issue. To simply give up now and declare the Diaspora vote null is unacceptable. If I remember correctly, the chairman if IEBC has in the last two years travelled and consulted widely with the diasporans while at thesame time assuring them that they will vote in this coming election. I would like to know exactly what “progress” they have made during that time and why wait until the tenth hour to tell us that we cannot vote.

    I am suprised you think the diasporans are overated for simply wanting to be counted in this election. Three million votes is a lot and most progressive countries allow their citizens to vote regardless of their residents. I thought that is where we are headed as a country. I never hear any mention of patriotism when the billions of remittances arrive in Kenya every year. Infact, when it comes to that they have established very effective mechanisms of sending money and investing back home.


  6. This is a welcome development and obviously the right decision.

    IEBC can hardly develop and manage the voter register at home and here we are asking that they buld from scratch and manage remotely upwards of three million voters, indirectly through Kenyan missions around the world.

    This would place a majority of diaspora in a serious quagmire due to compromised immigration status.

    It is also a recipe for disaster and a possible conduit for election rigging now that BVR is happening.

    Diaspora sometime tend to go overboard and overrate themselves. Patriots do return home to vote.


    • phil,

      The constitution of the republic of Kenya says that Kenyans in diaspora have a right to vote in the presidential elections in 2013. That is the law. If we are not allowed to vote due to the confusion and incomeptency of the IEBC we will sue to declare the presidential vote null and void. Yes we will do that regardless of who wins.

      Imagine for a second that Nairobi county folks (3 million plus) were not allowed to vote for the presidential candidates because some idiots in the IEBC couldn’t figure out how to do it. They would sue to declare the presidential vote null and void. So will we, Kenyans in the diaspora. If we are supposed to vote and are denied the right to do so, it is illegal. Think about that. Thank you very much and wait for the court cases. Will you! We are not going to be pushed around. That is my advice for you and your presidential choice.



      • adongo

        i highly doubt that a suit filed at this stage will succeed

        if you read 82.1.E

        this is one of the few clauses that specifically allow for progressive realisation of a desired outcome, in fact repeating the term twice in one sentence and explicitly states

        (e) the progressive registration of citizens residing outside Kenya, and the progressive realisation of their right to vote.

        in many of githu’s arguments contesting some blunder or another, he has tried to allude to “progressive realisation” where none was required or mentioned, but in this instance, it is there in plain terms

        whereas i do agree that the country cannot be held hostage or lag behind due to negligence and/or incompetence of institutions and or individuals, but the law in the case will be on their side.

        i would recommend an alternative route or approach to this matter. one that helps move the issue forward rather than one that pits the diaspora voter against a local institution. my advice on this is to seek out IEBC to see if something is workable within the remaining time frame. who knows maybe a diaspora vote can still happen but not to be used unless required for a tie-breaker with clear guideliness. if credible voting can happen in diaspora and results published but only used in exceptional circumstances that would be a good start.


        • tnk,

          This thing is not rocket science if the IEBC were serious. The katiba was passed in 2010. If the IEBC chaps were smart what they would do is to implement the “progressive registration” process. Doing nothing is not a “progressive realisation”.

          If the IEBC was to set up registration process and set up voting stations say in a couple countries like US, UK etc they can say they are implementing the law. If people complain that there are very few voting places and it is hard to go vote that is not any different from folks in Turkana who have to travel the whole day to go vote. The IEBC can argue that their job is to make it possible for the diaspora folks to vote and not necessarily to make it easier for them and that they will improve with time.

          But if the IEBC does nothing absolutely and do not even make any efforts to register people they are disregarding the law and it is a huge risk for them. If diapora folks go to court (during and even after the election) and argue that they have sufficient votes to make a difference in the results and that the IEBC refusing to get their votes is likely to give the country a fraudelent result it could be very dicey particularly if the IEBC did nothing whatsoever. It would come down to how the court interprets “progressive” realisation as provided for in the constitution. I don’t know why these people would take such a huge risk. Do something even if you do with the incompetence we expect from the IEBC. Try something and cover your ass if this thing ends in court.


        • I agree with tnk on this – the progressive registration and progressive realisation phrases provide enough wiggle room to lock out the 2013 diaspora vote; but certainly not future votes. Judges would likely find it unreasonable if the same argument was being used in 2018…but not 2013.

          All in all – it’s fine for me even if I don’t vote in 2013 election for very pragmatic reasons. In fact I consider sacrificing that voting right in 2013 for the patriotic reason of preventing likely shenanigans or rigging planned with the diaspora vote.

          After hearing what Hassan said about the diaspora vote, I had a lot of reservations about the entire process…especially the rush that was being applied towards it. Someone sent to IEBC some outrageous data that claimed there are more than 1 million Kenyans in Southern Africa alone;> 2 million in Eastern Africa; >1/2 million across the rest of Africa; > 1/4 million in Asia; and about 1.5 million in Europe and Northern America.

          Right there, you’re already talking more than 5 million votes. IEBC’s officially reported estimate is 3 million.

          Anyone with a good grasp of statistics can clearly see potential minefield in selectively cherry-picking portions of that diaspora population perceived to lean a certain way. Kenyans living in Uganda are part of that diaspora just as those in Juba, South Africa, TZ, U.K, U.S, and such. We can easily be lied to that 1 million Kenyans live in a country called Zamunda…how are we to verify that? God forbid if people learn of it after the election…being told that candidate X pulled a surprise because of the 1 million votes from Zamunda…which may not even exist in any map.

          Then there is another angle to it. Adongo is right – the diaspora is not all about Kenyans in the U.S. It’s much much more than that. Why should the diaspora vote in U.S. matter more than that across Eastern Africa for example? If folks in the U.S. are complaining they can’t all get to D.C, N.Y. or L.A. to vote, then what about the many Kenyans living in Musoma or Mwanza Tanzania who might find it too far to get to Dar-es-Salaam? or those in Tororo Uganda – far from Kampala?

          If the IEBC determined they want to set voting stations only in Embassies – will they avail it in all embassies ranging from Kampala, Dar, Juba, Mogadishu, J’burg, London, D.C. etc? ….what about countries where Kenya has no embassies? IEBC has definitely not answered these pertinent questions.

          We need to collectively take a deep breath and relax before we figure out exactly how the diaspora vote is going to be harnessed fairly and uniformly across all regions.

          I do not for a moment think this current (inept) IEBC has the capacity nor goodwill to harness a fair and uniform process regarding that vote. They may selectively pick only portions of the diaspora vote they are instructed to…that’s my frank assessment. This is a potentially huge swing vote that could be manipulated for political chicanery.

          So whereas I would like to vote from the U.S., I frankly do not want it under a process facilitated by this current IEBC (remote-controlled from State House, OP and Treasury via NSIS agents). This coming election is too risky and delicate to succumb to supreme botching or rigging by this inept IEBC.


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