Kenya elections: Tea pluckers, henna-stained fingers and elderly problems

Tuesday August 09 2022
A polling clerk uses a Kiems kit to identify a voter.

An IEBC polling clerk uses a Kiems kit to identify a voter. PHOTO | NMG

By The EastAfrican

Sections of Kenyans who showed up early to vote in various polling stations across the country were forced to resort to identification via manual register after the election’s technology failed to pick their fingerprints.

Some voters faced delays before casting their ballots, while others were turned away after the Kenya Integrated Elections Management Systems (Kiems) kits failed to pick their fingerprints.

Some, like Presidential candidate Prof George Wajackoyah, failed to vote following the kits glitch. He left but later returned to cast his ballot at Indangalasia Primary School in the afternoon.

Separately, Kenya Kwanza Alliance presidential running mate Rigathi Gachagua finally voted at 7.39 am after several attempts on the Kiems kit.

Some leaders like Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o asked the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to do away with the Kiems identification process and allow voters to be identified through the manual register. He said cases of people being turned away because the gadgets cannot identify them have been reported across the county.

Failure reports


Following the reported hitches of the Kiems kits in parts of the country, IEBC said it had authorised the use of manual registers. However, in a press briefing at the national tallying centre, Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi, on Monday afternoon, the agency said they did not consider the kits’ failures to be widespread.

“We have received 200 failure reports out of a total of over 46,000 (Kiems kits). The failure is not widespread. Technology does break down, and we have ways to address that, which we have done. We expect that one or two may present a malfunction, but that does not mean it is widespread,” said IEBC commissioner Justus Nyang’aya.

The Nation, however, has compiled instances where the technical hitches were reported across the country, thus pointing towards a larger problem.

Mt Kenya: Tea pluckers’ fingerprint challenges

In central Kenya, voting started early and went on smoothly in most parts of the region. However, in some areas, voters were turned away because they could not be identified biometrically.

Cases reported in Othaya involved tea and coffee farmers and farm workers who use their thumbs and index fingers to harvest the crops. The Kiems kit could not read their fingerprints.

In some cases, voters were sent home to wash and lubricate their fingers and return, while in others, IEBC officials were forced to rely on voters’ identification documents and their manual registers.

Network hitches also disrupted voting. At Nyaribo Primary School in Nyeri Town Constituency, the first person voted at 6.47 am despite being in queues hours before that.

Coast: The henna-stained fingers problem

In Lamu Old Town, most Swahili women voters with henna on their fingers could not be identified using the Kiems kits. IEBC had earlier advised they remove it before polling day, but a majority still turned up with the dyes.

Lamu County Deputy Returning Officer Mohamed Ali says the henna ink makes it difficult for fingerprint recognition.

In Kwale, polling stations in Kinango, Matunga and Lungalunga reported failure of the kits to work. Kwale IEBC Returning Officer Obadiah Kariuki said a team from the commission’s ICT department was notified to rectify the challenge.

In Nyali, IEBC replaced defective Kiems kits. Returning Officer John ole Taiswa said in polling stations where there were delays occurred, voting hours would be extended.

In Wundanyi, Taita Taveta, faulty Kiems kits and poor internet connectivity were reported. IEBC elections manager Eisha Oshan confirmed the complaints and said the ICT department intervened.

Similar challenges were reported in Rabai, Kilifi.

The elders’ struggle

Elsewhere in the country, the decision by IEBC to strictly adhere to the use of Kiems to identify voters has subjected the elderly in some parts of the North Rift region to uncomfortable situations. Some were turned away after the kits failed to pick their fingerprints.

In various polling stations in Elgeyo Marakwet, Uasin Gishu and West Pokot counties, the elderly, who had turned up in large numbers, had to contend with rubbing their palms together or on rocks and even warming them over gas lamps to soften them.

“When their hands are warm, the fingerprints become visible, and the kits recognise them,” said  Hillary Kosgei, the presiding officer at Turesia polling centre in Elgeyo Marakwet. More than 10 elderly women were seen by the Nation warming their fingers over a lamp at the centre.

“At last, I voted despite almost burning my fingers (over a lamp). In the past, we only presented our national IDs without pressing on the device, which is uncomfortable for us,” a relieved Kabon Kapkong, 80, said after casting her vote.

Some casual workers in Kesses Constituency, Uasin Gishu, suffered the same fate but were turned away and could not vote.

...and more frustrations

The kit failures and delays were also reported in Kamunkunji in Nairobi, Bullapesa and Wabera in Isiolo and multiple polling stations in Makueni.

The hitches led to some voters opting to leave while others persevered and waited around to get a chance to vote.

In Kibwezi West, Makueni, the delays triggered disgruntlement among voters. A spot check by the Nation showed that more than 100 Kiems kits had failed.

At Kiambani Primary School, for instance, five of seven polling stations had failed, while in Emali Primary School, voting took place in only two of the 12 stations following a breakdown of the kits.

IEBC officials had difficulty reassuring voters who were running out of patience. To recover the lost time, the officials at the affected stations pledged to extend the voting period.

Report by Mercy Mwende, Fred Kibor, Barnabas Bii, Oscar Kakai, Waweru Wairimu, Pius Maundu, Mkamburi Mwawasi, Lucy Mkanyika, Siago Cece, Anthony Kitimo, Charles Ongandi, Steven Heywood, Maureen Ongala, Kalume Kazungu, Brian Ocharo and Philip Muyanga.